Translated by Marlaine Delargy from the original Swedish version.
Going into my reading of The Unit I was prepared for a novel based upon the typical Dystopian world, but it seemed that the world that Dorrit lived in was much more comparable to a Utopia. There is no back-story given to let the reader know how this society has developed, it just is. Citizens are aware during their early lives that if they do not meet certain goals – marriage, children, careers that contribute – they will then spend their later years giving back to the contributors of society by donating their bodies and minds to experimentation and finally giving their bodies over as useful biological material. Now the reason why I mention it being Utopian is that the people who end up in Reserve Back Units seem fairly agreeable to their situation. They enter the Unit peacefully, live in luxury with few complaints, seem resigned to their fates, some seem happy that they will be serving the greater good. Also unlike most Dystopian fiction, the mention of underground resistance groups is absent. Perhaps that is what makes The Unit so frightening, the acceptance of such things only highlights how dark paradise can be.
There are many issues that come up in this novel about what’s ethical or moral to do within a society, but what struck me the most was the idea of humans contributing to the greater good by being needed. To be needed a person must be part of a traditional, loving relationship, have children or have a positive impact on the economy. However to me, there are so many other ways that a person can be needed. Not only by child or spouse. When Dorrit’s relationship with a man ends she is able to accept it, however upon turning fifty and preparing to enter the Unit she is torn apart by the fact that she must separate from Jock, her loving, beloved canine companion.
Loving and leaving don’t go together. They are two irreconcilable concepts, and when they are forced together by outside circumstances, they require an explanation. But I was unable to give Jock that explanation. Because how do you explain something like that – or anything at all – to a dog? Nils could at least explain to me why he couldn’t be with me properly and make me a needed person, and I could understand that. But how will Jock, if he’s still alive, ever be able to understand why I drove away without him that day? How will he ever be able to understand why I never came back?
Of course, my being a dog person, this aspect of the story did have an impact on me emotionally. But it was what made me really consider the other relationships that also make a person needed, but would not be enough for this particular world to deem you a contributing member of society. Sisters, brothers, relatives, friends, pets – there are hundreds of combinations of relationships where people are loved, wanted and needed. Relationships that may not give back to the world in general, but are a world of happiness to the people involved. To live in a society that is successful, where every person does their bit to help does sound perfect, however without happiness what would be the point?
“Good boy, Jock,” I said. “Good dog.” And I bent and picked up the stick and threw it again. And Jock shot after it, the sand whirling up around his paws, his ears flapping in the wind, he picked it up, came back and dropped it at my feet, and I patted and praised him again. And we did it again, and again, the same thing over and over again, hour after hour, while the sea roared, the clouds sailed by, and the sun, slowly sinking toward the horizon in the southwest, stained the clouds pink and the sky orange. That’s all it was, the dream was just Jock and me and the stick and the beach and the sea and the sky and time passing by, and that was all, there was nothing else. And that was happiness.
These quotes from The Unit display the unfairness of the world Dorrit lives in, the passion she holds inside, the regret and loss she lives with. They also show how beautifully written her story is, although translated from the original Swedish language, the language still perfectly captures the feelings that Dorrit has. This was an amazing read, one that I will likely go back to again in the future, with so many thought-provoking issues it seems likely that there is something new that will grab me every time.
About The Author
Ninni Holmqvist lives in Skane, Sweden. She made her debut in 1995 with the short story collection Kostym [Suit] and has published two further collections of short stories since then. She also works as a translator. The Unit marks Holmqvist’s debut as a novelist.
About The Translator
Marlaine Delargy has translated novels by Asa Larsson and Johan Theorin, among others, and serves on the editorial board of the Swedish Book Review. She lives in Shropshire, England.
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