Review ♦ The Unit

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 state-of-the-art recreation facilities, and live the remaining days of her life in comfort with people who are just like her. Here, women over the age of fifty and men over the age of sixty – single, childless, and without jobs in progressive industries – are sequestered for their final 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?

Book Title: The Unit Genre: Fiction - Literary
Author: Ninni Holmqvist Type: Trade Paperback 272 pages
Publisher: Other Press  Publication Date: June 2009

Translated by Marlaine Delargy from the original Swedish version.

My Thoughts   
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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© 2008-2010 Joanne Mosher of The Book Zombie. All rights reserved.


Lenore said...

She has to leave her dog?! How depressing! My kittehs need me! Don't send me to The Unit ;)

I do really want to read this though, still.

Care said...

dogs! I actually took a serious dislike to the main character in the book I just read because she admits she just doesn't like dogs, nor dog-people (like ME.) This books sounds very interesting - probably since I don't have kids?

Debi said...

What a fabulous review. Sounds like a book I would love. And hate...because it sounds all too possible.

christina said...

This sounds similar to Never Let Me Go; I've added it to my list. :)

Carolyn Morgan said...

The books sounds interesting, but what I liked most was your review -what a great writer you are. I love the layout of your blog too. I have also nominated you for the Kreativ Blogger Award. Click HERE to receive it! :)

bermudaonion said...

I'll be reading this soon, so I was anxious to read your thoughts on it. It sounds like one that will make me think, for sure!

Dar said...

You write such awesome reviews Joanne-very impressive. I'm going to be reading this soon but I doubt I'll be able to catch the atmosphere of this book so well. Even just thinking about this happening is scary to someone like me who is single. Anyhow I really look forward to reading this one.

Kailana said...

I have this book to read, but I haven't got around to it yet. One of these days!

Pandora Moon said...

Hi. I really like the sound of this book I will have put it on my wishlist :D

Zibilee said...

I have read a couple of good reviews on this book, and think it sounds really interesting and complex. I think I am definitely going to try and pick up a copy of this, as I really love dystopian literature. I will let you know what I think. Great review!

Anna said...

This one is on my shelf, and I can't wait to read it. Interesting how it blurs the lines between utopian and dystopian.

Diary of an Eccentric

Nymeth said...

This sounds seriously amazing. I bet the dog bit would really get to me too. There was a scene in We Are on Our Own by Miriam Katin where they had their dog taken away, and it really made me cry.