August 17, 2009

The Unit, by Ninni Holmqvist

The Unit is a dystopian novel set in a near-future Sweden where childless people of a certain age (50 for women, 60 for men) are deemed "dispensable" and sequestered from society. They are sent to live in "units", entirely enclosed communities that are like luxurious jails. They have their own apartments, and there are restaurants, art galleries, shops, salons, gyms and more at their disposal. It costs nothing except their liberty and their organs. Dispensable people are used for experiments, drug testing, and as living organ donors, until they make their final donation. It's quite grim.

The circumstances that lead to this are only alluded to briefly. It seems that sexism has somehow been made illegal, as the main character, Dorrit, mentions that if a man had winked at her out in the community (as they think of the outside world), she would have been forced to report it. Also there is no excuse to be a stay-at-home parent, as daycare is mandatory. It seems that the only way to be a needed person is to have lots of kids and to work, and several mentions are made of snobby parents taking up lots of space with their strollers, and looking down on the childless.

The story was very good and absorbing, but I couldn't quite believe it. Was the rest of the world like this, or would it be possible to leave the country and hide out if you were nearing 50 and childless and single? If everyone is trying to have several kids, isn't overpopulation a problem? Wouldn't child abuse or unhappy partnerships abound if people who weren't suited for kids or each other were just desperate to avoid a worse fate? The end does suggest that change must be coming, as every month there are less and less people arriving at the unit, and they hear that younger people are getting pregnant, which I guess isn't what the government was aiming for.

I think this book would be easier to chat about with someone than review, but I can say that I really enjoyed it, and as dystopian novels go, I liked it better than The Carhullan Army, but not as much as The Handmaid's Tale.

The Unit
The Handmaid's Tale (Everyman's Library)

1 comment:

brie said...

This sounds creepy and good!