Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Review: The Unit by Ninni Holmqvist

The Unit
Sometime in the not so distant future, government has found a way to ensure that every individual is contributing to the gross national product, otherwise, they are no longer needed to society. If an individual has failed to have children, or do something economically important in their jobs, or be deeply loved in a romantic way by another, by the time they reach age 50 (for women) or 60 (for men) they are deemed dispensable and sent to The Unit.

The Unit is described by one character in the book as a "luxury slaughterhouse." Individuals who go there live in comfortable circumstances but they are subjected to various physical and psychological testing up to and including organ donation.

On her fiftieth birthday, Dorrit, filled with fear and grief goes to live in the unit. Upon her arrival, she is confronted with her impending death as well as surprised that for the first time in her life she becomes part of an interdependent network of people. And she falls in love. The consequences of this are surprising and far reaching and ultimately, devastating to the reader.

From the moment I picked The Unit up, I did not want to put it down. How could there be such a society that would decide who was needed and who was not? And how cruel to force them to donate their organs!! Additionally, I was so surprised by how everything seemed really nice from the fine food to the nice living conditions, but really it was barbaric the way they had to undergo so much medical testing against their will.

The themes this book explores are incredibly rich. From which should be valued more? The creation of art or the creation of life? What does it mean to have a life? What makes a person needed or gives them value and who should get to decide that?

I absolutely felt for Dorrit. I felt her grief and her confusion. I kept wishing there was a way she and her friends could be saved. I felt the injustice of finally finding people to love only because you were all considered worthless in your personhood, and sentenced to death. Much the same way Dorrit was often lulled into complacency or thinking things weren't so bad, I as too, until another horror was visited on The Unit.

I tore through this book, needing to know what was going to happen (or how it was going to happen). I couldn't help but cry while reading and I finished longing to talk with someone about all the book was about. So yes, this one would make a great book club pick!

To give you an idea of the sort of gut-wrenching things included in the book:

I wanted to live a proper life with deep interwoven relationships for better or worse, which only death could separate. I wanted to feel real, to feel part of things, and to be honest I couldn't give a s--- whether it was dignified or respectable or whether it cost the taxpayer a whole lot of money.

I'd like to include much more to that passage but it would be spoilery.

The Unit was a gripping, heartwrenching, thought provoking read. I won't soon forget it.

Rating: 4.75/5
Things You Might Want to Know: there is some sex, and a wee bit of language.

The Unit is published by Other Press and available now.



bermudaonion said...

I've got this book and now I'm dying to read it. I'm sure it will be disturbing on some levels, though.

Lenore Appelhans said...

Reminds me a bit of NEVER LET ME GO and UNWIND. I know I have to read it!! I love these types of books.

Kirsten said...

Sounds really intriguing; thanks for the tip!

ANovelMenagerie said...

I just can't read this book after Never Let Me Go. The subject matter is just too heavy for me. I'm a lightweight!


Jen - Devourer of Books said...

I LOVED the world that Holmqvist created there, it was great.

SuziQoregon said...

I'm definitely putting this on my TBR list. 'Although as a 'closing in on 50' year old, I'm a bit concerned that it may hit too close to home.

Jenn's Bookshelves said...

Oh wow..what a thought provoking book. Just what I need right now! Adding it to my wish list. Thanks for the review!

Heidenkind said...

What are the organs used for? If they don't have anyone in their society over the age of 60 (which is pretty harsh), it's hard imagine they'd use all of the organs for transplants, especially if they're harvesting organs from everyone. Oooh, is this like a Soylent Green thing?

Florinda said...

I'm reading this right now, and it's having a similar effect on me. Hopefully we can compare thoughts on it next week!

Serena said...

I keep seeing great reviews of this book. I'm sorry that I turned down the review copy of this one. thanks for another excellent review...this is going on my to-read list.

Jess (The Cozy Reader) said...

I picked this up at BEA. I haven't read it yet but I do plan to soon. :)

Anonymous said...

Wow, this sounds like a really interesting, mind-bending dystopic tale. I ran over and put these on my BM and PBS wishlists after reading your review. I'll have to add it to my amazon list, too.

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

This one sounds amazing; thanks for the post.

Anonymous said...

I cannot wait to get this! I didn't realize it was out already. It sounds so interesting and I'm even more excited after reading your review!

Fiona said...

I'm adding this to my Must Read list.

Amy said...

Kathy...yes quite disturbing!
Lenore..I haven't read either, but saw someone else make the comparison. Now I want to read them.
Kirsten..hope you get to read it.
Sheri..I've read like three books in a row that made me weep!
Jen..look forward to your review!
SuziQ..well, you're married right? ;) You would be safe.
Jennifer...great, I hope you get a chance to read it.
heidenkind...they only take people that are not married or not parents or not somehow "needed" they put the organs in younger people.
Florinda...can't wait to read our review!
Serena...there's always the library. :)
Jessica..hope you enjoy it.
thekoolaidmom..hope you find it!
Diane..my pleasure.
Debbie..I hope you enjoy it.
Fiona...good! It's a great one!

Tara said...

Wow - this is the second great review I've read of The Unit - it sounds like it's right up my alley.

Alyce said...

This is one I'm planning to read in a few weeks. I'm so glad to see that you liked it!

Lori L said...

This is going right on my wish list! Another great review! Thanks, Amy!

Amy said...

Tara--I hope you get a chance to read it!

Alyce--Can't wait to read your review.

Lori...my pleasure. I hope you enjoy it when you read it. If enjoy is the right word. ;)

Jenny Girl said...

Oh I am so picking up this book! You always find different books Amy!
Brilliant review.

Iliana said...

Great review! So glad to hear you liked this one. I'm really looking forward to it - I have it on my nightstand but just haven't gotten to it yet. On a sidenote, I'll have to check out more books from this publisher. They seem to have some great titles that you'd not normally see at the bookstores.

Mindy Withrow said...

Definitely read NEVER LET ME GO! It was the first Ishiguro title I read (my review is at http://mindywithrow.com/?p=668) and now I'm reading all of his backlist. In light of your review of THE UNIT, I suspect you'll adore it.

Anna said...

Glad you liked this one. It's on my shelf, and I'll be reading it soon.

Diary of an Eccentric

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