The Unit by Ninni Holmqvist

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Stars: ****

ISBN: 978-1-59051-313-2
Other Press (June 2009)
272 pages
Fiction, Dystopian
Originally Pub 2006 in Sweden as Enhet by Norstedts

Summary: In the world of The Unit by Ninni Holmqvist, men over sixty years old and women over fifty—who are not engaged in “useful” professions, or are childless—are categorized as “dispensable,” and will enter a “Reserve Bank Unit” for biological material. Once inside, childless dispensables like fifty-year-old Dorrit Weger can live out their days in comfort, while they contribute themselves for drug and psychological testing, and donate their healthy organs, little by little, until making their final donation. Despite its undercurrent of ruthlessness however, the prevailing ethos of the Unit—and the society beyond—is to take care of others.
Resigned to her fate, Dorrit lives out her days in the Unit with peace and consolation. But when she meets a man inside and falls in love, Dorrit is faced with questions that challenge her at the very core of her identity; with the overtones leading to her ultimate decision: Escape or comply.

I haven’t read many Dystopian novels but I do like The Giver by Lois Lowry and Brave New World by Aldous Huxley although I do agree the latter can be hard to digest. But I love how creative the authors are at thinking up a way that some people might think is the “best” way for us to live in the future.

Usually when new books come into my house, they go on my shelf in the order they came in. I don’t always read them in order but I try to read the ones that have been here longer first. Well I started reading this one the day it came, it didn’t even make it to the shelf. I love the cover and that and the summary are what drew me in.

Dorrit is the main character in the book but there are a bunch of other secondary characters that we see a lot of. Many of the character names are unusual, but I suppose “popular” names chance with the times and this is the future. There are quite a range of names, from highly unusual, to uncommon to old fashioned. Other names include Elsa, Vivi, Johannes, Alice, Kjell, Fredrick, Petra, Boel and more. We were shown a lot of the before-life of Dorrit but I would have liked to have heard more about the before-life of other characters such as Johannes and Elsa.

There are many themes running throughout the book including but not limited to ageism, what makes us needed and identity. I’m not good at explaining this so I’ll quote the press release which says it beautifully:

“Based on her own experiences, Swedish author Ninni Holmqvist delves into the nature of the female psyche, exploring its struggle to find an identity in the face of culturally-defined relevance, ageism, and gender roles based on child-bearing. Holmqvist has achieved a debut novel of humor, sorrow and tenderness, while exploring the bonds of love and friendship in a utilitarian existence, cynically disguised as compassion.

The Unit raises poignant questions that may finally receive their fair share of the spotlight as the Baby Boom Generation faces retirement en masse. Submitted for your review or profile feature consideration.”

Now as for plot, I think it could have been handled better. The beginning did an okay job of wheeling me in but the first page could have been better at grabbing me. I think first lines are important and “It was more comfortable than I could have imagined.” fell a bit short. Also with adult fiction, I find the good books have me reading the last third non-stop, where I can’t put it down or look away for a second because it’s so good. I didn’t have anywhere near as strong a pull with this book. I read the middle third all together but the end had me slowing down a bit. The end shocked me though, but not necessarily in a good way. I would have preferred a different ending.

Overall though I did enjoy the book, it’s quite different from what I generally read as I don’t make much time for fiction but I’m glad I read it. I prefer nonfiction because I like to think and learn but this fiction novel definitely had be thinking as well, weighing their system of being/working in my head and trying to think of a way it could work and still be within my moral system.

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About Kathleen

I've been a nonfiction lover for as long as I can remember. I love children's nonfiction as well and love to share my knowledge and the books I gained them from, with the world. I wish more people would give nonfiction a chance.