I previously reviewed the earlier novels in the trilogy: Annihilation and Authority.
Acceptance: A Novel is the third and final chapter in Jeff VanderMeer’s carefully and meticulously unfolded Southern Reach Trilogy. Having grappled with the mystery of Area X first through the narrow eyes of a failed expedition and then through the crumbling descent into madness of the organization meant to study it, Acceptance opens the story tying all the characters’ plots and arcs together.
The Southern Reach Trilogy was always an ambitious endeavor. The nature of Area X is its central mystery and one that by its very nature is not wholly definable. Indeed to explain Area X would in some way rob the trilogy of its otherworldly power. It is beyond true human understanding, and luckily VanderMeer remains committed to the wonder and pure Otherness. A few answers are forthcoming, but they remain nebulous and, crucially, not entirely substantiated. Area X remains almost as unknowable as it was in the beginning.
This is not just the story of Area X, however, it is the story of human interaction and response in the face of the otherworldly, the uncanny. The previous novels with their tight focus first on the biologist and then on Control, were unable to show the whole human picture and hinted at mysteries and threads that all come to fruition her.
Disliked and misunderstood by the biologist, Control spent much of the second novel under her shadow piecing together the ruins she left behind, the former Director’s lifelong relationship with Area X, her plans and desperate machinations, her hopes are finally revealed. As broken as the rest, she emerges as a tragic figure whose glimmer of understanding sets her apart and ultimately breaks her.
The emotional heart of the novel, however, is Saul Evans’s story—the lighthouse keeper. His slow inevitable transformation into the Crawler on the stairs writing the same phrase over and over is an exquisite piece of existential horror, and serves as an origin story for Area X as a whole.
Acceptance is a fitting and, for me at least, satisfying conclusion. Jeff VanderMeer has managed to tie up the lingering human mysteries and stories while maintaining the nightmarish, uncanny power at the heart of the story. A wonderfully strange and uncanny achievement.
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