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Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Review: The Unit

Author: Ninni Holmquist

Translator: Marliane Delargy
Release date: UK 2010, Sweden 2006
Genre: Dystopia
Target audience: Adult (**sexual content)

Summary from Amazon:
When Dorrit Wegner turned fifty, the government transferred her to a state-of-the-art facility where she can live out her days in comfort. Her apartment is furnished to her tastes, her meals expertly served, and all at the very reasonable non-negotiable price of one cardiopulmonary system. Once an outsider without family, derided by a society bent on productivity, Dorrit finds within The Unit the company of kindred spirits and a dignity conferred by 'use' in medical tests. But when Dorrit also finds love, her peaceful submission is blown apart and she must fight to escape before her 'final donation'.
The Unit is at once a painful book to read and yet remarkably absorbing. It is so believable that it horrified me. Once I finished reading it, I felt like a swimming pool inflatable with all the air let out, left to bob hopelessly under a darkened sky. The story (which is a first person narrative) tells us about Dorrit who has just turned fifty and is taken to the unit. Any woman who gets to the age of fifty and any man who gets to the age of sixty without having any dependents are classed as dispensible. This means that if they do not have any children or a partner to say that they are needed and loved then they are required to give themselves over to the unit. There are units all over Sweden.

When Dorrit arrives at the unit, she is angry and frightened but surprised by how much luxury they are given. The unit is a vast and considerable dome in which the residents have their own bedrooms and kitchenettes. There is a cinema, a library, a theatre, a garden that is constantly in bloom, a state of the art sports facility and multiple restaurants. Each resident is given the opportunity to spend their free time pursuing their own personal interest. Dorrit’s friend Majken is an artist and is planning an exhibition of her work in the unit’s gallery. The unit is highly civilised but in every possible place there are cameras and microphones. Everything that the residents do and say is observed and monitored.

Every month new dispensibles arrive and are given a welcome party. For the first four days in the unit, the residents are given free time to adjust and find their equilibrium. Then they go through a day of rigorous assessment. They go through every possible test, blood, tissue, DNA, and that is followed by a gruelling fitness test. The data is used by the scientists and researchers in the unit to assign experiments for the dispensables to take part in. Some of the experiments are risk free about measuring levels of fatigue after exercising for example, some of the experiments are psychological and some are quite frankly terrifying – like being used to test the effects gases used in chemical weapons.

The dispensible go through various stages in their time in the unit. Each person ends their days with their final donation. That is to say their vital organs are taken and given to a candidate in the outside world who needs them. The people in the outside world are the “needed”. They serve society in one way or another.

I could go on explaining how things work but this review would be dissertation length. The other defining thing about this society is that the oppression of women is illegal. I know that sounds like a wonderful thing but remember this book is dystopian and even something that should be empowering can be distorted and corrupt.

One of the things that really struck me about this book is that you could see that this concept had so much potential to actually happen. As people in our society age, we become burdened by the need to look after them. This book offers one way to eradicate that problem. It frightened me in its believability. If one chooses to live without a family, without a partner, one is effectively condemned to incarceration (leading to abuse and death) at a set date. What vile horror!

The other thing that struck me is that Dorrit comes to think of the way the unit treats them as humane. I was reading it thinking, yes, they do treat you well, but you need to ask why! The dispensible become institutionalised.

Overall, The Unit is powerful, beautifully written and conceptually amazing. Not an uplifting read but certainly a thought-provoking one.


Lynsey Newton said...

This sounds interesting. Nice review Becky!

Irena @ This Miss Loves to Read said...

Such a great review! I haven't read a dystopian noven in ages, but I can see myself reading this one. The fact that people are dispensible in the novel is scary, but it makes for a very good plot, I think.

Juju at Tales of Whimsy.com said...

Wow. Sounds gripping. I think I will add this to my TBR right now. Thanks for the awesome review.

So Many Books, So Little Time said...

"I felt like a swimming pool inflatable with all the air let out, left to bob hopelessly under a darkened sky." - that's beautiful, Becky.

You've made me really want to read this.

Becky said...

Lynsey, it most certainly is interesting :-)

Irena, if you are in the mood for dystopian, I don't think it gets any better than this! I hope you read it and tell me what you think.

Juju, awww... you are welcome. I really hope you give it a go.

Sophie, shucks... I'm blushing... you are too kind. Hope you give it a go! :-)

I Want To Read That said...

Sounds great - another book to go on the wishlist:)

Lauren said...

This sounds brilliant, and potentially *really* scary. Kind of like 'Unwind' for grown-ups, I guess? Thanks for reviewing it - I don't think I'd ever have heard of it otherwise.

Rhiana said...

Great review Becky...I think I'm going to add this to the wishlist, it sounds fascinating and scary at the same time.

Jo said...

Nice review. I read this book a while ago and found it very thought-provoking. The idea of getting to 50 and then being taken away for contemplation of harvest gave me the creeps. But, I liked the book. :)

prophecygirl said...

You got me interested with 'conceptually amazing'. It sounds like an unusual book to read, and not one that I knew much about before now. Thanks for the review.


I've wanted to read this for so long I'll have to see whether my library has it yet! The plot is just so fresh and something I've never read or heard of before so it's interesting indeed! Thanks so much for the review!

Caroline said...

What an amazing review Becky!
I didn't really 'get' the concept of the book by reading the blurb and now I really see it. I totally agree with you, this is really not a stretch from our societies where there are a lot of people left alone by their families when they reach a certain age and need more help.

Another book for adult on a similar theme would be Blindness by the recently deceased portuguese writer José Saramago. All the population goes progressively blind for mysterious reasons and the blind people are parked in a quarantined area until a cure is found. The things people do when they think no one is watching... *shudders*

I'm glad you liked that book :) and yay for adult fiction!!

Becky said...

Sammee, yep it is GREAT! :-)

Lauren, definitely scary. This is your kind of book for sure. I hope you read it. Don't let the fact that its an adult book put you off because it didn't feel like one to me :-)

Rhiana, yes! That is exactly it.

Jo, hi! I don't think we've met before. Harvesting... *shudders* Yet it is very compelling reading.

Jenny, I hadn't heard much about it either but I read the blurb in three different shops and in the end I thought: I am going to have to buy this book, it's stalking me. LOL

Paper Back Novel, it is an absolute pleasure. maybe you could request it if your library doesn't have it. Thanks for commenting.

Caroline, Thanks! I saw Blindness in Waterstones last weekend and I wrote the author and title down so I could add it to my wishlist when I got home. The blurb was very compelling. It does not surprise me that you know all about it. LOL

brizmus said...

wow, this does sound painful to read. It's always rough when scary things seem so possible. What an amazing review - you've really done this book justice, it seems. I'll look forward to reading it.