Aug 10, 2010

IBBMP 2010 REVIEW #3: The Unit

Ninni Holmqvist

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Other Press (June 9, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1590513134
  • ISBN-13: 978-1590513132
  • Source: received it from Lenore
  • My rating: 3/5 
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 few 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 few 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?
The Unit is a gripping exploration of a society in the throes of an experiment, in which the “dispensable” ones are convinced under gentle coercion of the importance of sacrificing for the “necessary” ones. Ninni Holmqvist has created a debut novel of humor, sorrow, and rage about love, the close bonds of friendship, and about a cynical, utilitarian way of thinking disguised as care. 

 The trouble with this book is that I can't make up my mind whether I love it or not. During the course of reading it it's had so many ups and downs. When I finished it, I was quite impressed, and terribly angry at the same time. I'm still trying to figure out where I stand so please bear with me while I try to explain (mostly to myself) what's wrong/great about this novel.

First and foremost--when you read a dystopian novel, like this one is supposed to be, you expect thrill, excitement, tension. There is NONE in this one. It's too slow in pacing and narration, told in a pretty dull,  passionless, monotonous voice. It felt as if the walls of the Unit started to close down on me and it was not the writers purpose to make it feel this way. Whenever there is a spark of emotion, it's done very shallow, leaving you emotionally unsatisfied.

Second thing. The MC. I've expected her to be more rebellious, more aware of the moral issues concerning the Unit. Basically, it's a human slaughterhouse, where "dispensable" people are kept happy and healthy to donate organs, tissue and stuff for the "needed". Dorrit's voice is too silent, she does absolutely nothing but accept the things as they are. Even when she gets her chance to escape, with a hell of a reason to stay alive (yes, I'm trying to avoid spoilers), she subdues herself to the idea of the Unit. That part made me feel cheated. Even if the purpose was to show the dominance of social rules, it's done slackly because I don't understand her motifs to remain a part of the project.

Problem number 3; I don't see where the author is standing concerning the issue of being forced to donate yourself away bit by bit. Throughout the novel there are extremely juxtaposed opinions are expressed, from justifying to degrading the concept. At one moment Holmqvist is full of praise for the system as a beneficial, fair one, next moment she shows the other side of the medal, how it affects the rest of the society... I understand that it's a slippery slope, but I would have liked some more resoluteness.

Now the fabulous things. The Unit raises millions of questions about the morality of organ donation, freedom, love, aging, democracy. Is it fair to "force" single people to be dissected in favor of someone who has "better" reasons to live? What makes an individual a worthy member of the society? Who has the right to decide that maybe I'm not? Is it a free choice if we're not forced to do something, but there's no alternative, and so we have to accept what we're offered? Do the faults of a system devalue the benefits and vice versa, do we tolerate the bad stuff to exploit the good ones? And just how easily does it all get out of hand?

And there you have me confused on issue # 3. If you asked me what I personally thing of this kind of social  arrangement, I'd have no idea what I'd say to you. So Holmqvist is forgiven for that.

Obviously, this book is perfect for book clubs and discussions. It IS a good book with a good story and depth, if it only weren't for the wee bit sloppy and clumsy execution.

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