AREA X – Jeff VanderMeer


I have just received my purchased copy from Amazon Uk…

AREA X by Jeff VanderMeer

Farrar, Straus and Giroux – New York (2014)

THE SOUTHERN REACH TRILOGY – Annihilation, Authority, Acceptance.


[My real-time review in 2011 of THE WEIRD edited by Ann & Jeff VanderMeer HERE]

49 thoughts on “AREA X – Jeff VanderMeer

    Pages 3 – 7
    “…and when you see beauty in desolation it changes something inside you. Desolation tries to colonize you.”
    From dedication to the subtitle’s word starting with the same three letters…. the worryingly atmospheric nature of Area X into which a nameless (all apparently female) biologist, anthropologist, surveyor and psychologist are venturing is genuinely the most captivating start to a massively anticipated novel that I have ever experienced in my long reading life. But I feel I am now constrained from reporting back intermittently on this novel (while I read it) as I usually have done with all previous such gestalt real-time reviews since 2008… Spoilers work both ways, I guess. “One rule for an expedition into Area X was that we were to attempt no outside contact,…”

  2. Pages 7 – 24
    “I tried to imagine the builder of this place but could not.”
    This book is friendly to reading, but inimical to ‘realling’-in-time as a reportage back, self-evidently. So I wonder how to conduct this review or whether I should abandon such a process in deference to a book impermeable to possibly any method of book reviewing, because of its very nature, where certain of its expressions trigger certain involuntary reactions. I have decided that the best method is, perhaps counterintuitively, to leave any of my reportage about Area X until at least a day after reading any section but before reading the next section – as I am now doing with today’s report about yesterday’s reading. And I feel somehow that I am the missing fifth member of the expedition (the linguist), the one who never embarked upon it, but now embarking on it as a result of reading about it…but now not sure why I think that. “…I kept un-remembering it.” Or is it because I am the wrong gender?

  3. 02: Integration
    Pages 25 – 58

    “Isn’t that part of all of this? The reporting? And something I see that you don’t might be important.”
    Neutral Report No. 1: this is truly compelling; a weird literature classic; the backstories give depth, too, eg regarding the old swimming-pool as objective correlative and the narrator’s husband having once visited Area X.
    DF Lewis, the real-time reviewer, is now visiting Area X for the first time and, what is more, visiting it from within the gestalt reported as slightly different from its earlier parts, but he may never know. Interesting how leasehold characters’ names are seen to be removed as the freehold author’s by-line name was also once similarly nemonymised.

  4. 03: Immolation
    Pages 59 – 79

    “Slowly the history of exploring Area X could be said to be turning into Area X.”
    Need I say more about yesterday’s satisfying page-turning? Perhaps the mention of a dolphin that amazingly coincides with a mutually affirming simultaneous review I just wrote here of a Niveau work. My reviews, since 2008, wallow in such preternatural serendipities. Also, anxieties of a simplicity concealing a complexity, and vice versa, in this section – and of the ‘limit to thinking about even a small piece of something monumental’ (another essence of real-time gestalt reporting), ‘something left unresolved or still in progress’, ‘the sincerity and weight of having been written immediately before, or during,…’, and calling me ‘you’ at the end of a textual section on page 70. “Observation had always meant more to me than interaction.” Now I am balanced between them?

  5. 04: Immersion
    Pages 81 – 102

    “When you are too close to the center of a mystery there is no way to pull back and see the shape of it entire.”
    …like there are several uses of the word ‘colonize’ and the concept of ‘border’. Brightness has no border because it usually shines beyond the borders of the thing that is bright? Certain words in Area X probably trigger me beyond their normal meanings, despite the limpidly crystalline and continuously compelling style that tells of immersive events. Is it the narrator’s style or that of the freehold author? Lost in clarity. X-filed by brightness. “A name was a dangerous luxury here.”

  6. 05: Dissolution
    Pages 103 – 128

    “I never dreamed before Area X, or at least I never remembered my dreams.”
    Neutral Report No. 2: the Dreamcatcher immersed in Area X…
    The End of Annihilation.

    000 – 001: Falling – 002: Adjustments
    Pages 133 – 164

    “…and then he recites his own name until the real world returns to him.”

    Incantations, recitals, all a means of control of the real world, but I suspect, for outsiders like myself as a neutral observer who has never been in Area X (so-named), being in Area X actually entails being in all aspects of Area X, like Area X, so-named and on the spine of the book, plus the effective Area X that houses new (now named) characters and debriefings about characters that have been in Area X who are now outside of the so-named Area X (as ostensibly narrated in this section under current review). All backstories, too, of characters and both non-Area X as well as Area X by dint of their being in this book. Even what we learn about neutral characters like Whitby? Layers of explicit book Title, three main Sub-titles, Sub-Sub-Titles, Sub-Sub-Sub Titles… Late-labelling as parthenogenetic literature.
    This is Animosity as well as Authority.
    NOTE: Dreamcatching Reviews usually brainstorm the effect of the book but attempting not to issue any plot spoilers, although the fact of my being the original missing Linguist possibly came too close for comfort.

  8. 003: Processing
    004: Reentry
    005: The First Breach
    Pages 165 – 189

    “So long as you don’t tell people you don’t know something, they’ll probably think you know it.”
    This book is pristine territory for me and, like any new visitor to the whole of Area X, it is a satisfying, sometimes worrying, task to formulate leitmotifs toward a gestalt, or as I learned in another book today, a perigene. I have no long term exit strategy. This review and the Internet are currently among a few rare outlets and contacts with the outside world beyond the covers of books, other than, inter alia, customarily contacting my elderly mother every morning to check out something I can’t avoid checking out…and talking to my wife. Yesterday, I crossed one of the book’s borders for the first time WITHIN a single review entry (this one). A sort of new breakthrough against being colonised as a reader of Area X beyond appreciating other books simultaneously. If you look down the edge of this book’s pages when the book is closed you can see the intermittent evidence of the grey pages that form these entry and reentry borders that I have just wilfully breached.

  9. Today, a pavement grass verge near where I live...

    Today, a pavement grass verge near where I live…

    006: Typographical Anomalies
    007: Superstition
    008: The Terror
    Pages 190 – 209

    “…the combinations of living matter that composed the words, as if the ‘ink’ itself was the message.”
    Neutral Report no. 3: This book with its visible edge-on borders, its immersive, almost alien, proclivities upon the reader’s body and mind as well as its subject ‘matter’ is the strongest tangible incentive that I’ve ever encountered for eschewing ebooks. This book is hopefully a watershed in this regard.

    Today, in a simultaneous review here, I encountered a Jeff VanderMeer story, with the quote: “I do not believe it is a tower. I do not believe it is a tower.”

  10. Outside a shop in Hedley

    Outside a shop in Hedley

    009: Evidence
    010: Fourth Breach
    011: Sixth Breach
    012: Sort of Sorting
    013: Recommendations
    014: Heroic Heroes of the Revolution
    015: Seventh Breach
    016: Terroirs
    Pages 209 – 260

    “…the equivalent of the disconnect when a two-page spread didn’t quite line up in a coffee-table book.”
    Suddenly realised that I have not got security clearance to conduct this review at all! Love the slow death, though, the word ‘terroir’, the squashed mosquito, the word ‘rhinoceroscrutian’ and the glimpses of a Blair Witch type video of events from Area X the place within ‘Area X’ the book. These chapters are enthralling, as if we have ANNIHILATION of this book placed under the microscope, except, here in AUTHORITY, the well-characterised, backstoried ‘scientists’ at CERN Zoo’s Southern Reach are specimens themselves.
    Like filters, microscopes can work both ways.
    “…the bookmark just began to separate one sea of unread words from another.”

  11. 017: Perspective
    018: Recovery
    020: Second Recovery
    021: Repeating
    022: Gambit
    Pages 261 – 311

    “He was here to solve a puzzle in some ways, but he felt as if it were beginning to solve him instead.”
    By listing out titles between sections of Area X, a discontinuous pattern is emerging. Just made my regular 8 a.m. voice call to my mother (nearly 90) which has taken on a new significance since my entering Area X. I feel I am playing chess with this book, and the fact that the freehold author actually once sat in the room here where I am reading Area X also takes on a new significance. The Subliminals of Life, I call them, the Synchronised Shards of Random Truth and Fiction, and I have been tutored into recognising these things by the personal backstory of my Dreamcatching, once called gestalt real-time reviewing from 2008, particularly in November 2011 when I thus ‘dreamcaught’ in detail ‘The Weird’ anthology edited by the freehold author and his wife. That was when Area X TRULY started, I feel, and without that other book’s own discontinuous pattern, I would have no chance at all in solving the puzzle of Area X, a task the light of which at the end of the tunnel can now be seen, I feel. Meanwhile, I look at people in the street where I live, people enacting an apparently random life, but now as part of the accreting pattern. That’s the sort of thing that Area X tends to make you think. But less of this rambling on my part … Onward with reading the book itself…
    “His mind would still be whirring as it contracted and expanded, grappling with Area X.”

  12. 023: Break Down
    000x: The Director, Twelfth Expedition
    Pages 311 – 364

    “That the normal-sounding subsection titles and the preambles that cited other sources hid a core…”
    A core, for me, some sort of Nemonymous Night or Earth’s Core, with the knowledge that Area X — seeing that the book I happen to be reading has actually got AREA X on its spine — is the whole physical book itself, with Southern Reach its hub or Storyville, more central than Central? And Whitby’s now incubating on a shelf like a book? As others travel to Rock Bay…
    Neutral Report No. 4: This book is a major read for the perpetual autumn of my life. A book I always hoped to read. For that I am grateful.

  13. Part I RANGE LIGHT
    0001: The Lighthouse Keeper
    0002: Ghost Bird
    0003: The Director
    Pages 367 – 398

    “Your other sanctuary is the roof of the Southern Reach building — protected from view from below by the weird baffling, the wandering ridge, that circles the roof. Beyond Reach, BR for short, ‘Brr’ in the winter and ‘Burr’…”
    The subsection divider drawings are now blacked in. I had a dream last night that Area X has autonomously become, inter alia, a sort of mixture of ‘ISIS’ and ‘House of Leaves’. (‘Is your house in order?’)
    “That you gave up the right to call anything impossible when you decided to enter Area X.”

  14. 0004: The Lighthouse Keeper
    0005: Control
    Pages 399 – 418

    “The sense in which the perfect fake becomes the thing it mimics,…”
    You may have noticed, assuming there is at least one ‘you’ out there reading this, that I have now abandoned the routine of reading the book one day, reporting on it the next. The book has too much of a driving force for that method. A compelling audit trail (that I cannot resist, but who knows what mundane life may have in store for me to prevent this onward course of mine?), a path of the numinous or spiritual or apocalyptic or spectral or dream-like as part substance, yes, substance, within a significant knowledge of nature and its zoo of creatures, including humans. Leitmotifs to gestalt. Lighthouses, too. Area X has or once had two of them, and I relate these to the Socratic dialogue in this section about copies (fakes) and doubles (originals). (Extraneously, Whitby Harbour, too, has two lighthouses.)

  15. moonking40006: The Director
    0007: The Lighthouse Keeper
    0008: Ghost Bird
    Pages 419 – 454

    “…the place that when you stood there you could pretend you were the only person in the world.”
    “…without having mentioned the sensation of things floating at the edge of his vision.”

    ACCEPTANCE has become an interweaving of various backstories as foreground, with my beginning to see the gestalt of what’s behind the curtain as only readers who choose to read this book are potentially able to do, and, despite a relative complexity, it is quite possible for me to follow the intriguing audit trails and individual characters, past, present and future, which is perhaps a miracle, because, as my wife and grown-up children often tell me, I am normally hopeless with plots! “…filling in pieces of some story he’d already heard part of before.”
    “…but the moon was hemorrhaging blood into its silver circle…”

  16. 0010: Control
    01: The Brightness
    02: The Moaning Creature
    03: The Island
    04: The Owl
    05: The Seeker & Surveillance Bandits
    06: The Passage of Time, and Pain
    Page 455 – 484

    “As a kind of fiction, it enlivened my reading but was otherwise useless.”
    …an unintentionally ironic observation written from within the most consumingly ‘useful’ piece of diary keeping by one of the characters while within Area X, a diary that I assumed is now read by those who are within that fuligin braid of backstories (pre- and post- Area X) — backstories I described in my previous review entry above: one of my series of real-time review entries like a diary, too?
    Fiction from within Area X is actually beyond fiction, I guess, and is something else: not fiction nor truth, not fake nor original. The owl is what it seems as well as not what it seems.

    0011: Ghost Bird
    Pages 487 -494

    “An organism can have a purpose and yet also make patterns that have little to do with that purpose.”
    Not wise saws or homilies, as such, but wisdom that draws power from obliquity. This book is full of such items of wisdom. Meanwhile, it was a letter we read in the previous section, not a diary, but a diary or journal accompanied the letter, and I was reading between the lines of the letter towards that diary. This new section of my pristine reading, short as it is, is, I feel, the book’s core, where an individual meets their own Proustian self, a stunning passage, like wringing one’s identity from images in a work by Bosch. Above, I feel, is an appropriate extract from ‘The Garden of Earthly Delights’, as accompaniment to this section.

  18. 0012: The Lighthouse Keeper
    0013: Control
    0014: The Director
    Pages 495 – 516

    “It had all been moving so slow, like a journey that meant something, and now so fast.”
    I had the same feeling before reading this sentence just now. One other thing that has now crossed my mind: the dynamics of Area X and the effects on the characters as well as on the reader, some of which effects are by hidden triggers or captcha codes, I assume, that seem to parallel the dynamics of a human office scenario (represented by Southern Reach), of any other group of people with work to do and ambitions to fulfil, with pecking orders, motives, cynicisms, nepotisms, pot plants, playing a role that you actually turn into for real, all of which dynamics are in turn paralleled by the motions of the natural world, its zoo, its monstrous births, its hazy borders between species, its large hadron colliders, until a particle breaks the pattern…Not the God particle (I think Higgs boson was mentioned earlier in this book, correct me if I am wrong) but a form of alien particle, an X particle, the mutant transformations set in motion being carried on the back of organisms that are us, each with their own in-built internal patterns with tenuous margins, pecking orders again, Proustian selves that emerge parthenogenetically through time, then late-labelled… “…as if there were nothing worse than being bored and the only point of the world people already lived in was to find ways to combat boredom,…” Just thinking aloud, or rambling, until I pick up this book again, hopefully tomorrow.

  19. image0015: The Lighthouse Keeper
    0016: Ghost Bird
    Pages 517 – 527

    “…the instant of touch, of connection, for which words are such a sorrowful disappointment…”
    Area X with AREA X tattooed on its spine is, as a counterpart to its own ‘topographical anomaly’, a literary anomaly in itself, the first of its kind, I estimate, an anomaly that is exponentially using language and visions beyond reach of any LOST or DARK TOWER or HOUSE OF LEAVES or some terror-territorial equivalent to ‘ISIS’ as “terroir”, by, inter alia, using printer’s ink to create words beyond any such ‘sorrowful disappointment’, using words beyond even their own meaning, beyond anything we get with other books, using them just as viscerally or hypnotically as when the living script with which this book instils us seems calligraphised from nature’s foul and fair resources…

  20. 017: The Director
    018: The Lighthouse Keeper
    019: Control
    Pages 528 – 542

    “…everyone had already crammed inside, anticipating music by a few locals who called themselves the Monkey’s Elbow.”
    It is for any lighthouse keeper (not necessarily the specific lighthouse keeper in this book) a duty to keep alive the light of the past, while inevitably touching such light or brightness upon the contours of the present, the sense of the ruined lighthouse, as counterpart, and the sense of inimical growth with which Area X – the area not the book with the same title – explicitly impugns any life that’s been there, especially as age encroaches, while wondering whether anyone can ever leave the area alive, following another sense of cancer that the borders of a modern area or ‘terroir’ are now shown to have at its spreading edges: ‘men and women in military uniforms attacked one another while some impossible thing watched from the watery sky.’
    Eyes like the sky fill with water…or with more lights and floaters.

  21. 0020: The Director
    0021: The Lighthouse Keeper
    0022: Ghost Bird
    0023: The Director
    Pages 543 – 563

    Page 563 is important to me so I have left it at the break there.
    “I hope to find Area X in Area X. I hope to be of use.”
    Indeed, I do. By not saying too much, other than the Southern Reach Building is tantamount to a ‘ponderous ship where you can’t even lash yourself to the wheel’ or sing sea shanties? And the linguist is ‘a volunteer’. That this review is tantamount to the S&SB investigating as well as interfering with Area X for optimum results, something that I contest. I have not used the words ‘the self-parody that’s not really parody’; they are words in the book itself.
    “Never any names used in what I saw. Just code names like, I dunno, ‘Big Hawler’…”

  22. reggie0023: The Director (cont.)
    0024: The Lighthouse Keeper
    0025: Control
    0026: The Director
    0027: The Lighthouse Keeper
    0028: Ghost Bird
    000x: The Director
    Pages 563 – 593

    “The surf, like white flames surging and questing…”
    Well, for me, a perfect ending, a denouement of a denouement, a fuligin braid of backstories; in fact the whole book is a wondrous, ever-extending denouement – to what? Many things. Only one of which, for me, is perhaps Alzheimers, the final Area X, for the linguist shown to be most probable of all. From an office pot plant to Reggie Oliver’s ‘Flowers of the Sea’.
    “You’re on your own, like you’ve always been on your own. You have to keep going forward, until you can’t go forward any more.”
    Neutral Report no. 5: As with no. 4 above. Nothing has changed.
    “A flowering plant that could never die.”
    00000: end

  23. Belatedly, thought of a fruitful comparison, i.e. the Event creating Area X the area with ‘what happened, if it happened’, in the Booker short-listed J by Howard Jacobson (Jonathan Cape 2014) that I read recently.

  24. Suddenly occurred to me that the lighthouse as depicted in Area X could be called *the* dead monument to once ancient hope?
    “But there were, you see, two prongs of blood-red light spilling, twirling across the angry seas from that now dead monument to once ancient hope.” — From ‘A Dead Monument To Once Ancient Hope.’
    Once ancient, so no longer ancient?

  25. The more I think about it in recent days, the more I think the book centres upon a unique treatment of (linguistic or literary?) Alzheimer’s, with at the start of the above review my referring to ‘unrembering’ (a word used in the book) and the outcome we are shown of the outset regarding the linguist and reference to the ‘flowering plant’ as objective correlative of something that ideally never dies, too, amid the encroaching sea images. The book, I infer, is full of the author’s own personal memories transcribed as objective correlatives within a shifting Area X that is this book – to try fix these memories within the shifting borders of the gestalt mind that is us.

  26. I have been a student of the literary theory known as THE INTENTIONAL FALLACY since the 1960s — and I propose that the author of AREA X as well as creator of the Area X within it would be surprised as how this book will also haunt him over coming years with unpredicted and unintentional power, involving ever-renewing factors from within it.

    This is my last entry, unless someone else makes any comment here that warrants a reply.

  27. My son has told me about ‘Doctor Who’ in 1989 that has a specific serial entitled GHOST LIGHT with a creature in human form called Control, involving brainwashing, and…


    I sense that Area X’s author invites such connections among many connections from his readers… (My son also mentioned Lem’s Solaris, Holdstock’s Mythago Wood…).


    • Public record – tellingly entitled ‘Deleted Scenes’ – of Storyville’s visit to Whitby and Robin Hood’s Bay (Rock Bay?) in 2004. Fixing the memories, as mentioned in my review above. (JeffV from that public record link: “…and the thought that I might never see these people again was just too much. I couldn’t deal with it. As I walked to the train, I looked back, hoping to hold some semblance of Storyville in my head, in the flesh…[…] They take awhile to fade. If you’re lucky, you write them down before they disappear entirely.”)
      Relevant to a reading of AREA X? e.g. cf Monkey’s Fist folk group with Monkey’s Elbow. Whitby has two lighthouses in its harbour. My contention that Area X is AREA X the book not the Area X described within the book, cf the word Storyville? And more…
      I feel the author entices such connections with his wonderful book, literary or real. Or both literary and real. The two-way filter or ‘Robin Hood’s Bay’ of Literature?

  28. Reaching the age of 67 yesterday, I think I now realise that it is never too late to walk the length of a moving railway train to meet and greet someone you were going to meet and greet sooner or later in any event when the train reached its destination.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s