Just as ghost stories are better experienced aloud around a campfire, Ninni Holmqvist’s The Unit is best enjoyed through the intuitive narration of Suzanne Toren. Her sincere and direct intonation serves as a guide through the waters of a cautionary tale. As a listener, you feel the horrors of a controversial government-operative intensified by Toren’s rendition.
Shortly following her 50th birthday, Dorrit Weger is brought to the Second Reserve Bank Unit for biological material, where she will be provided a comfortable apartment surrounded by every luxury she could ask for - from state-of-the-art swimming and diving facilities to an elegant art gallery filled with contemporary exhibitions. She will flourish in her community, she will fall in love, and - best of all - she will never have to worry about finances for the rest of her life.
In Dorrit’s world, we are introduced to a society in which people are either “needed” or “dispensable”. Under this regime, once those who are dispensable reach a certain age, they are expected to sacrifice for the betterment of those who are needed - by checking into the Unit. Behind the walls of the Unit, Dorrit and her peers are required to serve as biomedical lab rats, participating in pharmaceutical experiments and organ donations that will ultimately lead to their death.
Holmqvist’s remarkable novel is a dystopia that asks us to question our contemporary world by holding up a mirror to our societal expectations. A writer and editor of moderate success, Dorrit enters her fifties without a husband or children of her own. She has led a life of quiet happiness with her career, her gardening, and a dog named Jock. But because her life has not contributed to what is conventionally expected of a woman, she is dispensable.
The author’s keen characterization is punctuated by Toren’s narration. At the story’s inception, Dorrit is an obedient individual who feels contempt for her situation but not desperation. But as the story develops, she undergoes a wealth of emotional changes that come alive through Toren’s voice. Furthermore, the novel offers a cast of characters that surround Dorrit, from other dispensables to the Unit’s staff, that Toren aptly portrays through varying cadences.
The Unit will raise evocative questions that will linger in the days after you’ve finished listening. --Suzanne Day
©2009 Ninni Holmqvist; (P)2009 Audible, Inc.
Is an artist dispensable? What about a writer? What about people who aren't considered needed? Does being a parent automatically make you needed? Is the measure of your life merely economic contribution to society? The Unit explores these questions and more when Dorrit Wenger turns 50 and is moved into The Unit, an upscale biological unit owned by the government. Individuals who go there live in the highest luxury and are completely provided for. They are treated extremely well. Or are they? Dorrit and others like her are actually in what one of Dorrit's friends playfully labels the "luxury slaughterhouse." Everyone is fine with this, right up through the final donation.
The book is disturbing, particularly if you read it with your own age in mind. From that point of view, it could become a horror tale. It isn't fast paced or filled with action. It isn't even highly emotional, which is with the intent of the author. The residents in the unit are detached from the end of their own story. Although for the first time in their lives they experience what Maslow's hierarchy of needs suggests is a sense of belonging. But at what price and is it worth it?
The book is well written in spite of the plodding pace and apathy in which the tale is told. Holmqvist uniquely explores a plot we have seen before. Suzanne Toren reads it very well. In spite of the numerous characters, she distinguishes them all so that you know who's talking at all times.
You have to be ready to read this book. It's not a one to take to the beach. Rather it's one to pick up when you're in a contemplative mood. From that perspective, and from that perspective alone, I recommend it.
This is not really an uplifting story, even though the tone is rarely negative. Instead the writer forces you to think about your political leanings. Tea Partiers will probably not appreciate this book ;-)
Slow start, but what a tale.
1. the story makes for good conversation as people get older. What would life be like if they had done something like this? IMagine knowing you would be "dispensable" early on in your life? So many people would have signed up for their final donations by now. Dear god!
2. Dorrit is an interesting character. She is in her 50's but sometimes acts like a major child. I wonder how much of that has to do with the fact that she is young at heart.
3. Johannes was a piece of work. I didn't see it coming either as the person listening to the book. When they mentioned the final donation, my heart sank. In some ways I thought the synopsis of the book didn't do it justice, only mentioning love within the unit. But man, what a heartbreak! Why he did that is beyond me. And at the same time, I wonder what they would have done out there, if they had both escaped. You know? No way to know. It ended so abruptly. But, I think the ending was also beautiful in that there was no magical heroism; it was done and it was over with, and she had to mourn and move on as well.
4. The ending is perfect and also very sad. I mean what a mind fuck that was. I fully expected the character to escape and make a life for herself outside of the walls. Her recollection of what happened was terrible and amazing at the same time. I thought she had been abducted or found out, which is why she was giving birth within the unit. But the 2 hours - or however long it was - of freedom she had felt so refreshing. While i was annoyed with her character for not taking the chance, how amazing must it have been to be outside after a year of captivity. So roam freely. Hell, readjust a wedgie without anyone recording it. This part of the book was quite amazing.
5. The ending and the letter were beautiful. The letter and the fossil were beautiful. I thought it was genius that she had readjusted the story to have the story start at a time when they were people and not cattle. Her ease in accepting the final donation was so endearing and so frightful and so peaceful, it was scary. It was different hearing of the final donations of those around her. It didn't seem as though it was the same. But Dorrit accepting her donation of lungs and heart and moving on in her story telling, choosing to take into her own hands the fate that awaited them all?
AMAZING BOOK! 4.5 stars from me.
Alice and Johannes were my favorite. Alice because she didn't give in to her doom. Not even until the end. And Johannes because he was bold and also because his role, whether an asshole or a hero in Dorrit's life, is not clear in the end. He chose to make his last donation without telling anyone. Dorrit was strong the whole time and to that point it was a beautiful way and an awful way to let her see it for herself.
I think the director of the unit was my favorite. All the false empathy???? Hilarious.
Dorrit of course.
It should be made into a movie. I would watch. But it should be made with Meryl Streep - or someone of relevance with acting chops.
100% of the books I read are in audible format. I enjoy reading apocalyptic, WWII, psychology, classics, contemporary and non-fiction.
I truly enjoyed this dystopian inspired book. Although it could be considered sad to some, the reader does not have to focus on that at all as the narration by Suzzane Toren is excellent and has just the right amount of light heartedness in tone so that it doesn't feel depressing but extremely interesting as a ""possibility" this could happen. If you like Hand Maid's Tale, you will probably like this, even though different.
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