Thursday, February 4, 2010

Book Review: The Unit by Ninni Holmqvist

When Dorrit Weger turns 50, she has to leave her beloved dog behind and enter the Second Reserve Bank Unit. She’s hit the age (50 for women, 60 for men) where without a spouse or children or an essential career, she is considered “expendable” and her biological material is property of the state to use and redistribute as they see fit.

This is translated from the Swedish, and it pulsates with a very practical, Scandinavian flair. The premise is chilling, but the presentation often lulls the reader into a grudging sort of acceptance (which is the REALLY chilling part, if you think about it). The residents of the unit, including Dorrit, feel like they are very well treated and cared for (and aside from being human guinea pigs for drug experiments and donating their organs, they are) and many actually form close bonds with other people for the first time in their lives.

There are no real individual villains here either. Even the director of the unit is unusually patient and kind. Everyone is treated with respect, and you can’t really blame anyone for just doing their job. Sure, it sucks that people like authors or artists who chose to contribute to the planet’s cultural well-being rather than to contribute to its overpopulation are considered inferior, but they are after all well aware of what happens to them if they don’t conform to their society. They’ve had time to consider their options.

Although the novel’s plot holds a big surprise that pumps up the drama midway through and ratchets up the outrage quotient, I might have liked to see how the author would have dealt with an even more extreme example…someone who followed all the rules and was still screwed over. Like, for example, a 50 year old woman who is in a car accident with her husband and children, and when they all die, she is considered expendable and sent to The Unit. How would the residents and staff react then?

Another big question mark for me was the reach of the society. It wasn’t clear was if this was limited to Sweden or more widespread. We hear about women “stealing sperm” from men in their desperation to get pregnant, but we don’t hear about people trying to escape to other countries.

Still, despite this frustating lack of insight on the society at large and the overall passivity of characters who accept things the way they are instead of trying to change them for the better, I really liked the way the novel raised a lot of thought-provoking questions about the value and meaning of life and presented a scarily-plausible dystopian future.

THE UNIT is available now in paperback. Find out more about it on the publisher's website.

My rating: 4 Zombie Chickens – An Excellent Example of the Dystopian Genre


See index of all dystopian reviews on Presenting Lenore

23 comments:

Shweta said...

I haven't read lot in dystopian genre but this does sound compelling. 'Expendable' for reasons as you have mentioned would definitely make an interesting read . Somewhat scary too.

caite said...

I do have a weakness for a good dystopian piece...and this sounds like an interesting one.

Jessica Kennedy said...

I have an ARC of this from BEA last year. I really wanted to read this and I'm not sure why I haven't yet. :( I will soon!

Becky said...

Wow, this sounds quite hard hitting. I guess quite scary but also fascinating. If I was reading books on the theme of "confinement", would this fit in well?

Lenore said...

Becky - This would fit well with the theme of confinement, yes.

Jo said...

Thanks for posting about this book -- it reminded me that I had meant to grab it from the library and I had forgotten all about it. It's on the shelf now, so I'm going to grab it. :)

Alyce said...

I really did like this book, and thought that it was a good dystopian fiction read. It made me think a lot too. I didn't think that it was too predictable either, which was nice.

bermudaonion said...

I read this book when I was 50, so it kind of creeped me out, but I did enjoy it. I, too, wondered how far the society reached, but decided it was only Sweden.

Allie said...

Wow! I will have to check this one out. I love the idea that there aren't any real villains. I really do love grey areas.

Kailana said...

I have this book on my TBR pile. I am looking forward to reading it.

Staci said...

I have seriously thought about reading this book several times. I loved your review but I'm not sure if I want to read it or not...The Handmaiden scared me...will this one?

Zibilee said...

I have read a lot about this book and think it sounds right up my alley. It is a subject that I haven't really thought much about, but now that I am considering it, it seems a little like the world in Never Let Me Go, albeit with different types of people ending up on the chopping block! I have already ordered my copy and will have to let you know what I think of it. I will be keeping some of your questions in mind as I read. Great review, I got a lot out of it!

Diane said...

So glad to see you enjoyed this book. Gee I hope I get to it in 2010 :)

Lisa said...

I've read several reviews of this and I am really looking forward to reading it. Thanks for the great review!

Mardel said...

Oh boy, I'm five months shy of 50 myself. How chilling. I did have four children though - by unit's standards would this save me for awhile? I do babysit the grandkids here and there, now and then. Ooh, I have the shivers now.

Jeane said...

Oh, this sounds like a good one. I think I'm going to have to add it to the TBR heap! Thanks for the review.

Serena said...

Just love those zombie chickens.

I've heard some great things about this novel, but I still haven't grabbed a copy. Maybe its the overflowing shelves I'm trying to work through. LOL

Thanks for the good review.

S. Krishna said...

That was one of my main complaints too - I would have loved to know more about the overall world! Still, this was a chilling and very good read.

Ladybug said...

Great review, Lenore! I see that my library has a copy of this book, I definitely have to check it out.

Jeanne said...

I thought I wanted to read this one, and after reading your review, now I'm sure!

Michelle said...

I've read this (still need to review it though) and enjoyed it as well. I struggled at the start with the literal translation but once I got past it the story was quite compelling. What made this one particularly interesting was the fact that I think out of most dystopian fiction I've read it has the most potential to actually happen in reality!

Anna said...

I have a copy of this book waiting patiently to be read. It sounds creepy, which means it's right up my alley. ;)

--Anna
Diary of an Eccentric

alaska. said...

i think this was one of my favorite reads last year - i definitely was NOT expecting what it was. i adored how the "quietness" of the prose kind of matched the story - and yet was perfectly juxtaposed against the plot as well.

(i did decide that it was probably just sweden, or scandinavia, and the reason more people didn't try to escape was because of the "reward" system - they do take care of you, and really, what do you have to offer if you are an expendable? shouldn't you give back to society however you can? fascinating idea . . .)

the images of the shell, the painting, and her dog will never really leave me.