Thursday, January 21, 2010

Utopia can be misleading

In Ninni Holmqvist's thought-provoking book The Unit, people are either needed or dispensable. If you haven't become needed by the time you are 50 (for a woman) or 60 (for a man), you will be removed to The Unit. This is public knowledge and everyone knows what goes on there, but to the new arrivals, the whole place is unimaginably frightening.

The novel opens with Dorrit Weger, an unmarried woman who's just turned 50, leaving her beloved dog Jock and her house and being transported to her new home in The Unit. Dorrit is dispensable because she has no children or other family who need her, and her chosen profession as a not-very-successful-author has not earned her a respected place in society. In other words, she will not be missed at all. The adults who are moved in to The Unit seemingly want for nothing. They each have their own apartment. Food, utilities and clothing are all provided, free of charge. They can take classes or indulge their hobbies at will. Soon, however, everyone there will be asked to make a donation of a non-vital body part, or to participate in a drug trial or psychological experiment. Eventually, everyone will have to make "the final donation" of a heart or lungs. Because each of the residents has valuable body parts at stake, their every movement is monitored so that they don't attempt suicide or some other form of escape.

Dorrit has always been a lonely person, so it comes as something of a surprise to her how closely she soon bonds with others she meets in The Unit. She even finds love with another writer, Johannes. Hanging over everyone, though, is the prospect of physical and mental deterioration as the "donations" become more invasive. At times, Dorrit arrives at someone's room for a chat to discover they've been taken away for "the final donation."

Although she's had no choice in what has happened to her up to this point, things suddenly change when Dorrit discovers that she's pregnant. Because of her condition, she's excused from participating in all experiments. She wants to have and keep the child, because that will make her needed, but this is out of the question. She is given the option to "transplant" the fetus, or to give the baby up for adoption. Suddenly, Dorrit has something to live for and new options in her life. Will she choose to go along willingly, or fight for her right to have her own child?

This book was not the sort I normally read, but I was intrigued by the concept. It does bring up many questions, especially about those in society who are "dispensable" and those who have "more right" to live. It's interesting how all the childless people in The Unit keep speaking disparagingly about how people with children "spread out" everywhere and take up so much room, while the dispensable ones tended to keep to themselves and not bother anyone. I was rather alarmed at the sentiment expressed by The Unit's librarian that people who read a lot tended to end up there! Interestingly, many of the people who receive "final donations" are politicians -- no doubt they have deemed themselves the most needed category of all!

All in all, I found this to be an unusual and disturbing book. It would make a very interesting, if somewhat depressing, film.

Final Verdict for The Unit: Three Gherkins, for being a frightening look at a futuristic society

2 comments:

Jessica said...

Thanks for reviewing this one! I'd looked at it a few times and couldn't decide whether to read it or not. I think it will be intriguing, but still won't likely jump immediately to the top of the list!

Lisanne624 said...

Well, it certainly is different! It makes you think about the concept of "disposable" people in society. I found it funny that the politicians were always important to society!

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