Acceptance by Jeff VanderMeer


Rate: 2/5

Medium: Kindle

Overview (No Spoilers):

As the conclusion of the Southern Reach Trilogy, I had such high hopes for Acceptance to answer the exorbitant quantity of questions laid out in the first two novels. I loved the mysterious aspect of the first novel in the series, Annihilation, however after expending the effort to finish the trilogy, I would hope that my analytical mind would be granted some satisfaction as the complex jigsaw puzzle fell finally into place. Alas, I ended up feeling as though I was a member of a delusional hallucination in which only the key characters fully understood or comprehended the key points, leaving the reader with a feeling of being excluded from the big ‘aha moment’ that appeared so gratifying for the aforementioned characters.   While I’ll likely chalk my current level of disappointment up to having only finished this book an hour or so ago, I doubt that my overall feeling will waiver much following a good night’s sleep. Now the positives: Some answers were revealed, in a slow drawn out process I might add. Also, I was excited with the two new POVs debuted in Acceptance, which acted to shed light on both the Director/Psychologist from the Biologist’s expedition and the Light Keeper (Saul Evans). Overall, having first thoroughly enjoyed Annihilation, I found myself rather disappointed the Southern Reach Trilogy as a whole due to that rather pesky pattern of exposing more questions than answers revealed.

Additional Insight (Spoilers Abound):

  • Who painted the map in the Director’s house after her disappearance?
  • What was the significance of the height marks on the Director’s office map that was hidden to the dead-end door?
  • One of the new POVs that we are treated to was that of the Lighthouse Keeper, Saul Evans, which takes place prior to the emergence of Area X and the boarder. He interacts in almost every chapter with individuals from S&SB, which I’m assuming was a precursor of Central. The two scientists are very strange and every conversation builds confusion and tension. It was still never really identified as to why they were so interested in the light source. Why were they drilling it? When Saul walked in on them and another woman performing some sort of ritual, what were they doing and who was the strange woman? Also, with that being said, why couldn’t Grace or the Director find anything on Henry or Suzanne on records of S&SB. What does Jack’s Grandpa have to do with S&SB?
  • As Saul’s story progressed, it digressed slowly into more and more confusion, similar as to in the other books when characters were under hypnosis. It started for him when he became ‘infected’ by Area X by the shining white flower. We see this flower emerge again from the flower that the Director and Whitby bring back with them from Area X. There’s a third reference to the white flower in the room holding the journals at the end of the book. What does it signify?
  • How did all the journals end up in the room and who wrote all of them since it is documented that they all couldn’t come from the expeditions?
  • Seriously, what is the big deal with the cell phone? How did Whitby’s dead mouse end up with the plant? What happened to Whitby after Area X encompassed the Southern Reach.
  • We also find out that the creature that made so much racket in the night for the biologists team in Area X was in fact the psychologist from her husband’s expedition who had transformed to the said creature.
  • I loved the quote, “People who asked questions didn’t necessarily like being asked questions.” So very true!
  • In the second novel, Control makes repeated comments about the overwhelming citrus smell. Please correct me if I’m wrong but was there any resolve to this sticking point?
  • Another new POV is that of the Director, specifically we learn about her childhood in the area currently occupied by Area X and about her clandestine adventure into Area X with Whitby. Did Whitby really encounter his clone? Did the cloned version or the real one survive? Why did the ‘dead’ Whitby have the plant and the cell phone? Was it to bring them out into the real world to ‘infect’ it?
  • Who was putting up the ‘markers’ for Ghost Bird and Control signifying the location of the ruined tents, and the dead moaning creature or left the boat to the island?
  • Was the marmot at the end of the book Control transformed?
  • Why did Grace shoot Ghostbird in the tunnel? How did she survive? What was the point of them going down in the tunnel to confront the Crawler if they just reemerged to travel some more?
  • Lowry’s character was so strange and I feel like we never quite resolved his weirdness. What did actually happen during his expedition?
  • I really thought Gloria’s letter would be something more profound than just a letter to Saul.
  • I loved the Saul and Charlie dynamic. What happened to Charlie?
  • Was the Owl actually the biologist’s husband?

Vocabulary Builder:

Hegemony: preponderant influence or authority over others

Dint: Force; Power

Querulous: habitually complaining

Ancillary: subordinate; subsidiary

Fecund: fruitful in offspring or vegetation

Ziggurat: an ancient Mesopotamian temple tower consisting of a lofty pyramidal structure built in successive stages with outside staircases and a shrine at the top; also :  a structure or object of similar form

Emplacements: the situation or location of something; a prepared position for weapons or military equipment

Beatific: having a blissful appearance

Paradigm: a philosophical and theoretical framework of a scientific school or discipline within which theories, laws, and generalizations and the experiments performed in support of them are formulated

Jocularity: said or done as a joke

Laconic: using or involving the use of a minimum of words; concise to the point of seeming rude or mysterious

Garrulous: given to prosy, rambling, or tedious loquacity :  pointlessly or annoyingly talkative

Gottal: of, relating to, or produced in or by the elongated space between the vocal cords



  1. I agree that the ending was sort of maddening, but I loved all of the mystery that it created…sort of like Vandermeer just wanted us to fill in the textual gaps ourselves to create a richer mystery…

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m halfway through the trilogy for the THIRD time now and still have many questions. I guess whatever those are by the time I finish will just have to go unsatisfied! You brought up some questions I hadn’t thought of, but my main question is how did the plant get out of the beacon in the first place? It’s implied Henry and Susanne let it out, and intended for Saul to get infected (I think) but why? Did they know what to look for? I just stopped at the part where the island is burning. Henry said they were finished there because what they were looking for isn’t there. Because they found the plant at the lighthouse? Is the top of the old lighthouse burning because the plant escaped the new lighthouse beacon and there is a connection there? If there is a connection is it similar to the lighthouse and tunnel having a connection? Anyways, one question you had I think I have the answer, or a good guess. In the first book it says the biologist smelled that smell in area x but after she was thoroughly infected she couldn’t smell it anymore. So I think when Control ceased to notice it, it implies maybe he is infected too or something similar. He ceased noticing around the same time the border expands to the SR building. And everyone else was acting “off” so maybe the border was already there but not apparent enough for control to notice until the doors disappeared..

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  3. Just finished it again, had a couple more thoughts. I must have dozed off the first time listening to the book! I don’t think the marmot was control, I think the light at the bottom of the tunnel was a portal to one of the other world’s. It doesn’t seem likely that it would just spit him out in the forest again but who knows! The orange markers were put there by the border commander after the border shifted. Grace explains that after leaving the island. I believe now the fires on the island was to get rid of any evidence (maybe info on Henry and Susanne) and some stuff was transported to a military base. Charlie explains that. I think Grace shot ghost bird out of fear, seeing her interacting with the crawler maybe looking a little too comfortable with “the enemy”. Just a guess. I agree too much mystery about Lowry left unresolved. Whitby that came out I believe is the clone. The clones all seem super strong for some reason and if one of them snapped the other’s neck, my money is on the clone. In the last chapter the director comments that he is stronger than he looks. He had to have been the one to put the mouse and plant in the drawer, I doubt he’d let anyone near his pet. I think he got infected like Saul by the plant. The plant contains the “brains” or instructions necessary to build area x. Saul makes it out to the middle of nowhere and collapses. I presume where the tunnel is. It has living, breathing walls, as does the southern reach building in the end. Whitby is probably another crawler like thing inside there still. Total guess though again. As to why he put the plant and mouse in there though… It appears he was recreating the lighthouse secret room. Maybe out of just sheer craziness… But drawer/hidden room; plant/plant; piles of scraps of words/piles of journals; mouse/Saul? I guess if we accept that theory he probably added the stuff to the director’s house. The letter to Saul, I think it did have more meaning than just a letter. For all we know it triggered the second expansion (maybe even removal of the border). It’s implied that before Saul gives in he decides to keep fighting somehow. They all say somewhere that the border was a second event altogether. I think Saul was keeping it contained out of love for Charlie (with those three words – I love you? Maybe? Something he could never tell Charlie because it was too sentimental). Protecting Gloria too… The letter basically said hey you did your best and it was just bad luck, and it was from Gloria. Gloria who is now dead in area X no longer needing protecting. So maybe he let’s the area finish spreading. Or maybe it was control going in, ghost bird says it did affect somehow, either being an addition or subtraction, and for all we know since we can’t trust time in here maybe it’s some paradoxical chicken/egg thing. Loved your post here though – I had the luxury of having read it, armed with your notes and reading (listening) again!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Wow! Nick this might be the most thorough comment anyone has ever left me!

      You raise so many valid and interesting arguments here, however I’m not sure how much feedback and debate I can really give at this point as it has been quite a while since I’ve read this series. Reading through your post did resurrect my frustration with all the loose ends that never were never neatly tied up. Kudos to you for battling through this three times trying to make sense of the murky mess. Would you recommend a reread? I kind of with this series had ended after one book. I loved the first one and was satisfied with the lack of answers. I was frustrated by the end of the series with the lack of resolve. Perhaps a fourth reread should be in your future. 😉 In that fourth read maybe more of the mystery will be resolved. 🙂


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