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The unit : a novel by Ninni Holmqvist

The unit : a novel (original 2006; edition 2008)

by Ninni Holmqvist, Marlaine Delargy (Translator)

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610None15,916 (3.81)46
Title:The unit : a novel
Authors:Ninni Holmqvist
Other authors:Marlaine Delargy (Translator)
Info:New York : Other Press, 2008.
Collections:Your library, Fiction, Read in 2012
Tags:Dystopic, Science Fiction

Work details

The Unit by Ninni Holmqvist (2006)

  1. 50
    The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood (bookcrushblog)
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    Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro (infiniteletters, bookcrushblog)
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    trav: It's a totally different tone and voice, but the theme and subject matter seem to do well within the same discussions.

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» See also 46 mentions

English (75)  Swedish (4)  All languages (79)
Showing 1-5 of 75 (next | show all)
Medical dystopia.

I liked this book. It was originally written in Swedish, which is why I'm recommending it to Kevin.

The translation is well done and the writing enjoyable. The idea almost ALMOST plausible - to have dispensable people (those who are 'not needed' - no family, etc.) we keep locked in the lap of luxury (Think, super-awesome nursing home, but better) while we perform 'humane experiments' on them and harvest their organs until they make their 'final donation' (one of the organs you can't live without.)

A good read. Try it out. ( )
  steadfastreader | Mar 18, 2014 |
I loved this story - sweet, sorrowful ( )
  andreaphi | Mar 12, 2014 |
I certainly wish more books from this author will be translated and released. The Unit is a great book, full of melancholy and sadness of a proper dystopia. Felt very enriched when finished reading it. ( )
  Hana.Dooren.Richter | Sep 22, 2013 |
It says a lot about my life at the moment that I read this thinking how nice it would be to go and live in a place like The Unit. Outdoors is overrated and I tire of this shopping and cooking malarky.

Anyway. It's pretty good but where it failed for me was with regards to one of the characters actions - it doesn't make sense to me that they did as they did. ( )
  foolplustime | Aug 22, 2013 |
This nasty little novel successfully gave me the heebie-jeebies. I hesitate to say I enjoyed it (it's too unpleasant for that), but it was well-executed and compelling reading.

Easily dismissed as 'Never Let Me Go' with old people, it deserves more consideration. However: trigger warnings a-go-go. This is jam-packed with topics that will make it unsuitable for many readers, from every -ism through to an implicit pro-life subtext (although it could be argued that the book is set up to invite you to reject this, as it is a part of a system that is clearly inhuman, none of the characters do so overtly) and the most confused feminism I've come across for a while.

In an indeterminate future, Sweden has a democratically elected government and has enacted statutes that relegate the 'dispensable' (broadly defined as the childless and/or unmarried who exceed child-bearing age and are not fulfilling a 'needed' social role such as teachers, nurses and role models) to biological reserve banks (or luxury slaughterhouses, as one inmate calls them) to be used for medical experiments and donor organs / tissue.

The protagonist - a 50-year-old woman named Dorrit - is fit and independent, but without a husband or children to keep her in society, she is sent to a Unit - fully aware of what this will mean. Life expectancy in a Unit is at best 3-5 years.

The novel begins with her introduction to the unit and an exploration of how staff and inmates collude to create an environment which is peaceful, inviting and even addictive. Dorrit makes the point that it is the first time she has been part of a community, rather than socially excluded for choosing to be a 'less productive' member of society - an unmarried childless author, allowing us to see how Swedish society is hardening in the wake of the new policies. It continues with her life within the unit, the coping mechanisms the population adopt, the ethical struggles of the staff, and the inevitable tragedies of love and death.

Dorrit is an interesting bundle of contradictions - independent, strong, intellectual, raised to fear commitment as a trap, but oddly compliant with her untenable situation. She makes no efforts to avoid her fate (leave the country? Ask Nils for a baby rather than a wedding ring?) and she secretly longs for a traditional gender role in a Sweden that has made flirtation, stay-at-home mothers and disrespect illegal. Gender equality is a blanket hiding a ruthless attempt to create an optimally productive population (as Dorrit herself reflects, comforting herself that she contributes through her death) 'for the greater good'. Ironically, this is described as both democratic and capitalist - even if it sounds more like something out of a Stalinist nightmare.

Dorrit is not politically engaged and does not stop to think hard about the broader implications of the policy and the social engineering that sits around it (consider dispensability through the lens of gender roles, family units, abortions, homosexuality, infertility, disability, etc and feel the chill), just as - by the end of the novel - it is clear that the policy's authors have not thought things through. If your future depends on being needed, and need is defined by procreation, Sweden quite predictably experiences a population explosion, putting even more pressure on the dwindling Units to keep the growing population healthy. By the end of the novel, the definition of dispensable is broadening, and the spectre of wholesale slaughter based on almost any variable is terrifying the previously compliant population.

The warning here is to remain politically engaged - Sweden sleepwalks into its nightmare because people don't consider the full ramifications of the statutes. Dorrit, young and independent, doesn't vote against it - it doesn't occur to her that while she is disinterested in marriage or children at 20-something, she will be condemned to death at 50. We must do better than only worry about that which affects us directly. ( )
1 vote imyril | Aug 10, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 75 (next | show all)
Holmqvist's spare prose interweaves the Unit's pleasures and cruelties with exquisite matter-of-factness, so that readers actually begin to wonder: On balance, is life better as a pampered lab bunny or as a lonely indigent? But then she turns the screw, presenting a set of events so miraculous and abominable that they literally made me gasp.
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It was more comfortable than I could have imagined.
People who read books tend to be dispensable.  Extremely.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Wikipedia in English


Book description
One day in early spring, Dorrit Weger is checked into the Second Reserve Bank Unit for biological material. She is promised a nicely furnished apartment inside the Unit, where she will make new friends, enjoy the state of the art recreation facilities, and live the few remaining days of her life in comfort with people who are just like her. Here, women over the age of fifty and men over sixty–single, childless, and without jobs in progressive industries–are sequestered for their final few years; they are considered outsiders. In the Unit they are expected to contribute themselves for drug and psychological testing, and ultimately donate their organs, little by little, until the final donation. Despite the ruthless nature of this practice, the ethos of this near-future society and the Unit is to take care of others, and Dorrit finds herself living under very pleasant conditions: well-housed, well-fed, and well-attended. She is resigned to her fate and discovers her days there to be rather consoling and peaceful. But when she meets a man inside the Unit and falls in love, the extraordinary becomes a reality and life suddenly turns unbearable. Dorrit is faced with compliance or escape, and…well, then what?
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In the Society, men and women past middle age who are single, childless, and without jobs in progressive industries are considered outsiders and are sequestered. They are kept healthy and are expected to gradually donate their organs to the "necessary" ones. But suppose two people who live in the Unit should fall in love?… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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