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Sunday, August 15, 2010

The Unit: A Novel by Ninni Holmqvist

Last night I decided to put an end to my reading rut.  I picked up the first book I saw on my shelf and started to read. The book was Ninni Holmqvist's novel, The Unit

From inside book flap:

One day in early spring, Dorrit Weger is checked into the Second Reserve Bank Unit for biological material.  She is promised a nicely furnished apartment inside the Unit, where she will make new friends, enjoy the state-of-the-art recreation facilities, and live the remaining days of her life in comfort with people who are just like her.  Here, women over the age of fifty and men over sixty - single, childless, and without jobs in progressive industries - are sequestered for their final years; they are considered outsiders.  In the Unit they are expected to contribute themselves for drug and psychological testing, and ultimately donate their organs, little by little, until the final donation.  Despite the ruthless nature of this practice, the ethos of this near-future society and the Unit is to take care of others, and Dorrit finds herself living under very pleasant conditions; well-housed, well-fed, and well-attended.  She is resigned to her fate and discovers her days there to be rather consoling and peaceful.  But when she meets a man inside the Unit and falls in love, the extraordinary becomes a reality and life suddenly turns unbearable.  Dorrit is faced with compliance or escape, and...well, then what?

My Thoughts:

This is one of my new favorite books! I truly enjoyed every minute I spent reading this book. From the first page I was captivated by Dorrit and this new environment she found herself living in.  The Unit is the place where she will spend her remaining years;  a place where everything is taken care of (housing, food, entertainment, etc), but at a price (organ donations and participation in scientific studies).  Society, or the community as it is referred to, has decided that childless singletons of a certain age (who have no job security) are dispensable.  They provide no real function or value within the community, that it is best they go and live in the Unit, where their bodies can contribute to the community.  It angered me to read how easily accepted this idea of the Unit was and how the community assigned value to people/humanity based on their additions to the population. How crazy is that? These people had done nothing wrong, they weren't criminals, they weren't draining the economy, they were simply existing, and yet, that was reason enough to place them in the Unit.  Poor Dorrit - subjected to live her remaining years in a place that has no real views of the outside and that monitors every minute of her day with cameras installed everywhere and pointing every which way - talk about lack of privacy.  Dorrit who has not experienced love, has no friends and doesn't even know where her siblings live anymore. I befriended Dorrit and found myself saddened by her loneliness. She truly wanted to experience love, marriage, pregnancy, motherhood, and everything else that was considered indispensable.  Yet, somehow, she never found the right person to share her life with (Nils was married, so he was never going to truly share his life with Dorrit) and so, she shared her loneliness with Jock, her dog.   And so, Dorrit readily accepted this fate of life at the Unit and in a twisted way believed that she would be contributing to the community and would have found meaning in/for her life.  Talk about gloomy, eh? But then, Dorrit blossomed. She found friends, developed a routine, began to work on a book and eventually she found love.  Dorrit and Johannes found each other and fell in love at the Unit.  Her loneliness died at the Unit and it was replaced by love, companionship, sex, and everything that Dorrit ever wanted/imagined a relationship to consist of.  She felt at peace.  Of course there were the tests that she and her friends had to partake in, which resulted in sickness and loss.  Dorrit lost friends and shared memories of them with remaining friends.  She was reminded of the fact that life in the Unit was finite.  And then one day she found herself with child.  Yes, Dorrit and Johannes were going to have a baby. Talk about bad timing. While, Dorrit was ecstatic over the fact that her and Johannes would no longer be dispensable, she did not understand the reality of the situation.  Dorrit had two options: abortion or adoption.  The community did not think it wise of Dorrit to keep the baby, because of her age.  According to them, the child would be ridiculed, possibly bullied because of the fact that it's parents were elderly.  Plus, Dorrit and Johannes would not be around long enough to meet their grandchildren and truly see their child grow up.  Dorrit scoffed at these ideas and told the Unit that Johannes and she would raise their child no matter what. And then came the news: Johannes was making his final donation at that very moment.  Blindsided by this news Dorrit got up and ran from the room. She now had to deal with the death of her lover on top of the fact that she was pregnant.  What was she to do? Well, the answer came in the form of a key card and code: escape from the Unit.  She could leave and be free to raise her baby and experience motherhood.  She wouldn't have to make a final donation.  Hmmmm. What would Dorrit do? Well, definitely not what I wanted her to do. I wanted her to be happy and free, but I suppose in a way, Dorrit found her happiness and freedom within the confines of the Unit.  So, she chose adoption (with some specific conditions).  She chose her life in the Unit.  And I chose to weep with sadness at the end, because I wanted more for Dorrit. I wanted to read about her baby and the life she would create for them.  I wanted a happy ending. Of course, thinking about it all, I suppose it couldn't have ended any other way.  A happy ending would have ruined the flow of the story and would not have made the story what it is - a fantastic dystopian novel.  With a book like this, I wish I belonged to a book club, because there are so many themes within the text that are ripe for discussion:  we have feminism, science, the body, creativity/creation, the concept of life and its meaning, society's influence on humanity, economics, privacy, etc.  This is a book that I will be recommending to everyone, because it is a book that will not only create discussion, but it is also an extremely well written text that tells such a refreshing and engaging story about characters that will haunt you for quite some time.  I found a friend in Dorrit and lost her at the same time, which to me demonstrated the brilliance and strength of the book.  I don't have anything else to write at the moment. I suppose considering the fact that I just finished this last night, I have yet to fully digest it all.  All I do know for sure is that this a must read book. It is a book that I will be keeping in my mind for quite some time.  It is also a book that inspired me to continue reading - I am now in the middle of Banana Yoshimoto's, Kitchen.  So, until my next post, Happy Reading!!!

16 comments:

Ti said...

I bought this one last week at Vroman's but haven't started it yet. I marked this review to read later but I read enough to know that you liked it. So glad to hear it. I can't wait to read it.

Nadia said...

Ti, I think you will enjoy it! There is just so much there and it really makes an impression - definitely a great book! I'm looking forward to your thoughts on it!

bermudaonion said...

I really liked this book too. The fact that I was 50 when I read it added to it for me.

Nadia said...

bermudaonion, I can understand how your age definitely added something more to your reading of the book - mine did the same for me. I just turned 32 and I thought to myself - tick tock!

Brenna said...

This book has been on my wishlist for about a year now and I have yet to buy it. It caught my attention because it seemed reminiscent of The Handmaid's Tale. Thanks for the great review! I'm going to track this down asap.

Wallace said...

This looks really good. I stopped reading about half way through (didn't want to find out what happened) because I might want to pick this up. Can't decide if it would make me really depressed, or if I would relate enough to really enjoy it?

Carin S. said...

This is my favorite book this year too! I am not 50, but I am single and childless (and want to remain so, childless that is) and EVERYONE in my book club is married with children, so it was an interesting discussion as I think we got VERY different things from the book.

She said...

I just finished this one last night! It was pretty fabulous, wasn't it? I'm sad I waited so long to read it. I found myself following Dorrit's emotions as she went through everything from acceptance, anger, and hope. It made the ending so much stronger for me. Glad to see your review.

Nadia said...

Brenna, glad you liked the review! Truthfully, when I first heard of this book, I thought of Never Let Me Go - I didn't think of The Handmaid's Tale (what a good connection!). Hmmm. I definitely look forward to reading your thoughts on this when you get a chance to read it.

Wallace, I know! I debated not giving it all away, but I just kept writing and so it goes. Anyhow, I think you should definitely give it a read when you get the chance. Like you, I wasn't sure how I would react and truthfully it did sadden me, but there were times when I was so happy for the characters - there is a definite range of emotions involved with reading this book and it is so worth it! So, I hope you read it, because I would love to read your thoughts on it! Cheers!

Carin S., yay!! Such a great book, eh? Like you, I'm a childless singleton, and all of my friends are smug marrieds, so I know it would be most interesting to discuss this book with them and get their perspectives as smug marrieds on this idea of indispensable and dispensable people (singletons). I can only imagine what an interesting discussion you and your book group must have had. I love that this book can spark great conversations :)

She, it was pretty fab!! I know what you mean about waiting so long to read it - I bought this last year and waited until the middle of this year to read it. I'm not even sure why I waited so long, I'm just glad that I finally read it. And I know what you mean, the writing just carries you along so easily through Dorrit's emotions, that you can't help but feel her pain and happiness. I'm still digesting the ending, because thought I know that is how it should have ended, it still hurt to read it. I'm definitely looking forward to reading your review of this fantastic read! Cheers!

Frances said...

This book was a real surprise for me - a great surprise. I also read it on a whim and even though I usually do not elect to read dystopian fiction, I was immediately sucked in. So starkly delivered that all emotion comes from your own reactions and a verdict of expendable for the creative and childless had great impact for me. So sad that they all finally reach an ideal existence celebrating beauty when their lives are slipping away.

Bellezza said...

I've been wanting to read this for so long!

Nadia said...

Frances, I completely agree! This book is such a wonderful surprise - its so engrossing and just surprises you with how easily connected you become with the characters and their lives at the Unit. And yes, I thought it was so sad to see Dorrit finally experience love when she had signed her life away. Definitely a fantastic read!

Nadia said...

Bellezza, you will love this book! It is soooo good!! I'm looking forward to your thoughts on it!

Lisa said...

I've heard nothing but good about this book but you've really sold me on it!

Nadia said...

Lisa, I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. I really do think you'll like it! Can't wait to find out if I'm right :)

Aths said...

Looks like so many of us are struggling to get back to reading. I took a two week break and am still settling into my new place, new job, new life. Hope you are able to banish that rut soon!