By Ninni Holmqvist
Translated by Marlaine Delargy
The Short of It:
The Unit is a cold, stark look at a world controlled by social engineering where a person’s value is reduced to categories such as “dispensable” or “necessary.” Holmqvist creates a sterile, haunting tale that is surreal yet also a bit familiar.
The Rest of It:
Dorrit is 50 years-old, single with no children. Although she has lived a decent life, owned her own home and worked as a writer, she is dispensable. Meaning, that she has nothing else to provide society as a whole, except the organs that continue to keep her body alive. This means that she must live out her life at the Second Reserve Bank Unit for Biological Material.
“The Unit” is deceptively pleasant. Picture a gorgeous resort, complete with spas, recreational facilities, gyms, pools, libraries, lots of restaurants to eat in and beautiful gardens. Add to that, well-appointed apartments and access to the best medical care. All of this for nothing. Well, not quite. As the residents live out their lives, they are subjected to medical experiments and research trials that include mind-altering drugs, rashes, painful skin ailments, or…organ donation if the Unit requires it. As you can imagine, some organ donations could mean the end of the line for the resident. They call this, the “final” donation and it gave me chills every time I came across the term.
Although there are rules and 24-hour surveillance cameras, the residents grow accustomed to life in the Unit and actually begin to look forward to when they can once again be necessary and contribute whatever is needed to those on the outside. As Dorrit settles into her new life, she doesn’t expect to find love so she is quite surprised when she does. This added element of complication, forces her to consider her options. None of which seem ideal.
The Unit is highly stylized in the telling. As a reader, I found myself completely absorbed in the actual structure of the Unit itself. It seemed very modern, but not too far into the distant future which was a bit unsettling to me. The author paints a bleak, chilling tale yet everyone is pleasant…polite and even caring which is surprising in that cold, antiseptic environment. The residents and staff treat each other with great respect. They function for the good of society and all seem willing to contribute in their own way. It’s frightening really. It’s perfect in one sense but completely horrific in another.
Holmqvist does an excellent job of touching on the issues. Ageism, the ability to contribute, value and self-worth are all themes here. But. I was a tad disappointed with the development of many of the characters. All of them seemed to be somewhat guarded. I wanted more emotion. There was some, but certain situations called for more. There was a numbness to them. Perhaps that was intended, given their circumstances. Needless to say, I felt a bit detached from them.
Overall, I will still recommend it to anyone who enjoys dystopian fiction, because it was good, and well written, but it didn’t leave me with the broad, sweeping… save the world feeling that I usually get from other novels like it.