Saturday, October 31, 2009

The Unit by Ninni Holmqvist

Posted by Simcha 4:11 PM, under | 6 comments

I had heard about The Unit a couple of months ago on a Books on the Nightstand podcast and I was immediately intrigued. I had recently developed a new interest in dystopic literature and the different perspectives and ideas that authors have about what the future may hold. Ninni Holmqvist’s book sounded interesting and unique and I was curious how the story would unfold.


Dorrit Weger, is 50 years old, unmarried, has no children or dependents, aside from her dog Nils. Dorris is therefore considered “disposable” and is required by law, in this futuristic society, to relocate to the Second Reserve Bank Unit for Biological Material. There she will receive a furnished apartment, free food and clothing and unlimited use of the state of the art recreation facilities. In exchange, Dorrit, and all of the other disposable men and women living in the compound, are expected to participate in medical and psychological testing and to donate their organs to those in the “outside world” who many need them.


Despite her initial anxiety about moving to the Unit, Dorrit is surprised to find herself enjoying life in the compound. For the first time in her adult life she has an active social life, a growing circle of friends, and wide variety of free activities that she may participate in at any time. She can go out for lunch with friends each day, enjoy the local theater, get her hair styled at the salon go swimming every morning; all activities that Dorrit could never before afford and which are available now for free. Dorrit even finds herself developing a relationship with an attractive older man to whose flirtatious advances she eagerly responds.


But slowly Dorrit becomes aware of the darker side of life in the Unit. Little by little her friends’ bodies start breaking down as bits and pieces are given away for medical purposes and some of the older residents disappear completely after making their Final Donation. Hormone injections are causing one friend’s voice to deepen and hair to grow on her face and another friend develops cancer due to ongoing radiation. A failed anti-depressant experiment causes the participants brains to shrink. The longer a person lives at the Unit the more testing they are subjected to and the more serious the donation required.


While Dorrit was aware from the start of what was expected from residents living at the compound she had not been expecting to fall in love. But now that Dorrit finally has the life that she always wanted to live and the man she wants to live it with, she has to face the facts that her new-found happiness will soon be coming to an end, unless she is willing to do something about it.


On the whole, I found The Unit to be an interesting and compelling book that had me thinking back to the story days after I finished it. The book is very well written, even though it’s actually translated from Swedish; you would never guess it was not originally written in English. The characters were all well developed and realistic and you really come to care for Dorrit and each of her friends


With that said, there seemed to be a number of plot holes in the story line and missing information that bothered me. (If you have not read the book, you might want to skip this part of the review). First of all, I thought there was a disappointing lack of background information explaining how this new system came to be, if there was a particular event that triggered it and if it was limited to Sweden or extended to the world at large. None of these issues were addressed at all. There was also very little information about the outside world and people’s reaction to the fact that a large part of intellectual society was being killed off. While a couple of staff members at the Reserve Bank did express their disapproval for the system, these incidents seemed out-of place and unnatural, as if, as an afterthought, the author felt she should throw them in to balance the story out.


I also had a hard time believing that Dorrit, and the other people at the Unit, had not made more of an effort to prevent ending up there, even if it meant they had to grab a stranger off the street to marry them so that they would have a dependent. Considering that the stranger, if edging towards the age limit, would also be ending up at the unit, he or she should be more then willing. The book does touch upon this issue a little, towards the end, but I thought this issue should have been addressed more thoroughly to give the story more credence.


And finally, towards the end of the book, Dorrit and her boyfriend each make a difficult choice,
which to me made no sense on either count. I really can't expand on this without giving away too much information but I just feel that I have to express my opinion on the matter.


So while
The Unit does tend to ignore the sociological implications of the system that it introduces, the individual story that it does tell, is told very well. The author provides you with some new ideas to think about and with characters that will stay with you even after you finish the last page.

6 comments:

Charlaine has an Eric thread? Thanks! I’m there. Second choice would probably be Sam, though I have a feeling Charlaine is going to add a human for Sookie before the series is over. Course, he’d need to be a telepath.

I want the book, Simcha!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Sounds really interesting!
Because I didn't know the exact meaning of the dystopian type of literature, I've looked it up in Wikipedia and I found a very interesting article there, as well as a list of authors..mmm, I think I read a only a couple, so I am going to prepare a new reading list for me.

Ramona, I thought this would a book you would like. I think I even included it in the list of books I recommended to you. Too bad you don't live close, I'd be happy to lend it to you :)
Another book you might enjoy is The Hunger Games, also a dystopic novel but very different. It was one of the best books I read last year.
Tell me if you read The Unit since I'd love to discuss it with someone (the downside of living in an Israeli community is the lack of people to discuss books with)

I have never heard of this. It sounds like it's sort of similar to a number of things out there, but still worth a read. I am very taken by dystopic lit. It fascinates me, and is good for discussion beyond the book.

And yes, Ramona, I second it: read The Hunger Games, ASAP!

Misty, which books would you say are similar to this one? Maybe I'll give them a try

Well Simcha, I have The Hunger games, and the other one in the series, i don't recall its name. After I'm done with Jim Butcher's 4th Dresden, I'll read them...

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