A friend lent me a book, “Annihilation” by Jeff VanderMeer, and I’ve read it today. While I was reading, I kept thinking, “This is a book that makes you want to be a writer”. The book is strange — which is the best kind of book. And the ending doesn’t explain anything at all — which is the best kind of ending.
One of the things I love in books and movies is: foreshadowing, which is: hinting at future events.
It’s a neat device to keep a reader hooked. I like when authors use that. I hadn’t realized what a powerful tool foreshadowing was until I tried reading “Pet Sematary” by Stephen King. I didn’t like it, nothing was happening, I was about to put it down and never finish it — which is always a tough choice because I feel compelled to finish books once I start reading them — but then, in the middle of the happiest, most carefree chapter:
And Gage, who now had less than two months to live, laughed shrilly and joyously.
I had to keep reading. I don’t remember that much of the book, and yet that one line stuck with me.
But no book did better work of foreshadowing than my favorite, “Little, Big”:
In later years he would wonder, sometimes idly, sometimes in anguish, whether having once entered here he had ever again truly left; but at the time he just mounted to where she stood, (…)
This is when Smoky arrives at Alice’s home for the first time, and they are about to get married. I kept reading with that word — anguish — on my mind.
Back to “Annihilation”. In the first paragraph we already get:
Looking out over the untroubled landscape, I do not believe any of us could yet see the threat.
And a few pages later:
I would tell you the names of the other three, if it mattered, but only the surveyor would last more than the next day or two.
The book kept doing that — alluding to what was about to happen, never giving too much away. I knew I was being manipulated. I didn’t mind.
I checked VanderMeer’s wikipedia page to see what else he has written, and in the personal life section I read:
When VanderMeer was 20, he read Angela Carter‘s novel The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman, which he has said “blew the back of my head off, rewired my brain: I had never encountered prose like that before, never such passion and boldness on the page.”
I’ve never heard of Angela Carter so then I checked her page and from there I wandered to an article about her which was written by someone deeply affected by her works. I read the whole article, decided that she was a writer whose books I wanted to read, and only then did I scroll back to the top to see who wrote it — and it was Jeff VanderMeer. She made an impact on him — he read and puzzled over all her books to try to learn what made her such a unique writer.
Now, I would love to read “The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman”, but I don’t want to spend my days reading books. I am adding it to my to-read list for now, but if “I had never encountered prose like that before, never such passion and boldness on the page” is not intriguing praise, I don’t know what is. I suspect I am more likely to read it sooner rather than later.