Thursday, April 4, 2013

The Unit-Ninni Holmqvist

The Unit-Ninni Holmqvist

the facts
satisfaction: up
pages: 268
gender: F
nationality: Sweden
year: 2006
Novel, in translation

When Dorrit Wegner turned fifty, the government transferred her to a state-of-the-art facility where she can live out her days in comfort. Her apartment is furnished to her tastes, her meals expertly served, and all at the very reasonable non-negotiable price of one cardiopulmonary system. Once an outsider without family, derided by a society bent on productivity, Dorrit finds within The Unit the company of kindred spirits and a dignity conferred by 'use' in medical tests. But when Dorrit also finds love, her peaceful submission is blown apart and she must fight to escape before her 'final donation'.

Usually I read YA dystopias so I was not expecting how almost dreamy The Unit is. There's a relaxed feel to this dystopia that made the ending not as shocking as it could have been. That's pretty indicative of the book. It reads like it is describing a different culture without judgements. I mean, this is a pretty sinister dystopia-older people who've never had children are dispensable and thus subjected to experiments until their 'final donation' aka a heart or lungs- but it never ends up being overly sinister partially because there doesn't seem like much is hidden. This is merely how society in this unnamed nation works.

I enjoyed the commentary on humankind. This society is one that defines one's value in life as passing on one's genes. If you have 'dependents' and have contributed to the future gene pool, you are allowed to live to your natural death. If you forgo having children, are gay, or making some other 'signficant' difference to the society, you ought to put the greater good above your own life. Indeed, the entire society punishes those who chose their own happiness outside of the conventional ideas set by the society. In a society of such strict utilitarianism art and music are the only personal weapons against the repression but they are also what will doom the individual to be dispensable. At the same time, the commentary stops short of being revolutionary as the tragedy is not in the strict utilitarianism of the society but rather that Dorrit was never allowed to be a mother. This strikes a discordant note to me considering that the society had abolished gender roles. In fact, that's the biggest flaw in this book-in a society that rejects gender roles and has a narrator that has rejected dependency on others, it's a discordant note that Dorrit falls into a traditional heterosexual dependent relationship without a second thought. She spares no thought to transgressing the society expectations yet fails to question her dispensability?

Holmqvist does several things here that differ from most dystopias. She creates the setting and world builds to every little detail. The Unit is constantly being defined (not redefined) and described throughout the book and I'd say that no stone is really left unturned. This is tell-not-show prose at its most detailed. I believe this is what disallowed sinister vibes.
The other thing is the surprising ending which I shall not spoil.

So this is an original dystopia, well envisioned, but the book is flawed though not quite enough for it become an up/side.

‘People who read books,’ he went on, ‘tend to be dispensable. Extremely.’

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