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 ;-)
I kept reading it hoping it would get better but it kept getting more depressing. she did do a good job captivating emotions and describing things.
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