Sunday, 27 May 2018

The Unit by Ninni Holmqvist


The Unit by Ninni Holmqvist
First published in Swedish as Enhet in August 2006. English language translation by Marlaine Delargy published by Trade Paper in August 2009. Republished by OneWorld in April 2018.

How I got this book:
Received a review copy from the publisher via NetGalley

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Where to buy this book:

The Book Depository : from £8.46 (PB)
Wordery : from £6.61 (PB)
Waterstones : from £8.99 (HB)
Amazon : from $2.62 / £3.42 (used PB)
Prices and availability may have changed since this post was written

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 dystopian novel set almost entirely within the confines of the Second Reserve Bank Unit which is a complete living facility for older people that society at large has deemed dispensible. As readers, we don't know how this legal situation came about or what drove their country to create these facilities, but we can see from the people who end up there how society's priorities lie. The novel is Swedish authored and set in Sweden so it was interesting for me to see how much of The Unit's philosophy meshed with what I know of lifestyle choices in that country.

If it wasn't for what has to be given in return, life in The Unit sounds like bliss. There are excellent leisure facilities, empathetic staff, it never rains and the library can swiftly get any book requested! However, the price is to repeatedly volunteer for potentially dangerous clinical trials and experiments, and to donate increasingly more vital organs to more deserving people on the outside. I was fascinated by how these 'dispensible people' cope with this situation. The criteria by which they are chosen would almost certainly make me one of them in just a few years so to say I was unsettled by this book is a massive understatement!

I was completely convinced by Holmqvist's creation and from thinking about how drug trials are actually carried out in poor African towns and villages, it's not a huge leap of faith to get to Units. I thought the intensity of friendships and relationships was very real and poignant and I was gripped by this story from start to finish. Holmqvist's writing style suits her subject perfectly. A scary prospect!


Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Ninni Holmqvist / Science fiction / Books from Sweden

16 comments:

  1. This sounds awesome, and it reminds me of Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro. Have you read that?

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    1. I have read Never Let Me Go and liked it, but not as much as The Unit. There are similarities between the two books, but in this one, the people know before they enter The Unit and it's how they deal with this knowledge I found interesting

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  2. Disturbing and intriguing at the same time and I agree it sounds like Never let me go.

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    1. Very disturbing and I wouldn't be surprised if it didn't turn out to be somewhat prescient!

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  3. What a great idea for a dystopian world! Very creepy and it seems plausible in the future.

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  4. Very disturbing. Not sure I want to think about a world like that!

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    1. It's an interesting dilemma - be yourself and risk The Unit or live as society dictates and not fulfil your potential?!

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    2. I hope it is a decision we never have to make!

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    3. Absolutely! Although I am sure book bloggers would be considered essential members of society!

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  5. Not my usual type of read but it sure sounds interesting.

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    1. Interesting and very disconcerting!

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  6. The Unit sounds like a utopia for book lovers...or is it?

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    1. It absolutely is! Right up to the moment when ...

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  7. You definitely gave this one a high rating! I haven't heard of it before but it definitely sounds chilling. The Unit sounds almost perfect as you said, except for the cost of being there. It sounds like quite the dystopian, and one I would learn from and appreciate.

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    1. I loved this book and the ideas it explores! I'd recommend to anyone looking for a dystopian read or simply thought-provoking social fiction

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