Other Press - Fiction/Dystopian
(Originally published in Sweden)
That night I dreamed of Jock. We were on the beach. It was autumn and windy. The clouds were sailing across the sky like fluffy ships. Between them the sun stretched out its golden arms to us, glowing, dazzling, warming, suddenly disappearing behind a racing cloud ship, popping out again and just managing to lay its warm hands on my head before disappearing once more. The sea was roaring and hissing. We were running along the beach. I stopped. The wind nipped at my cheeks with ice-cold teeth, tugged at my hair. Jock was capering and dancing around me, barking and looking up at me with those brown eyes. He was happy, playful.
The Unit is a dystopian, possibly futuristic novel (but not far in the future, near as I can tell -- it has a contemporary feel) about a woman named Dorrit who has turned 50 years old and become "dispensable". I assume the novel takes place in author Ninni Holmqvist's home country, Sweden. Wherever Dorrit lives, though, the country enacted laws, years back, which led to classification of citizens as either "needed" or "dispensable". Dorrit has never married, never had a child. Her family is not dependent upon her and her job is not considered significant. She's had an affair with a married man, but he was not interested in leaving his family to save her from becoming dispensable.
Dorrit's birthday marks the end of her life in the outside world. She has given her beloved dog, Jock, to a loving new family and packed her few necessary items. Her house will be sold by the government.
Dorrit is taken to the Second Reserve Bank Unit, a locked, domed environment where she can use the exercise facilities, take classes, paint, shop, enjoy the beautiful winter garden and eat for free. Everything is provided, including health care. What she cannot do is leave. She can't even step outside the dome and will never again see the sky or feel the change of seasons. Her job, like that of the others, is to take part in human experiments and donate various body parts . . . until the final donation takes her life. But, then something happens that might change matters. Can a person declared "dispensable" return to life outside?
I read about 75 pages of The Unit and it made me so gloomy that I set it aside for a while, then flipped toward the end to get an idea of what was going to happen and returned to finish it. The writing is good, very fluid and extremely emotional. It's a translation and I have no complaints about the translation, which I think is well done. But, it's such a horrifying story.
Thought-provoking as the idea is that people might become walking organ banks, it's unfortunately just a little too fathomable and I found it profoundly depressing. Still, The Unit is a good book -- definitely worth discussing. Since I flipped near the end (something I do when I'm concerned that I'll hate an ending), I had an idea about the plot twist without knowing how the ending would turn out. To be honest, the more I ponder the ending, the more it pisses me off. I could understand it, in a way, but it just seemed totally wrong. But, then, the whole concept is morally wrong, isn't it? I think that's part of the point. The rest of the point may be that far too many people are marginalized and their lives considered somehow less valuable by society. The author's particular focus is on single, childless women. Men, in Dorrit's world, are not considered dispensable until they reach the age of 60.
The one thing that really bugged me about this book was the fact that there was not enough description of the outside setting. All through the book I kept wondering if there was any option to escape. Could Dorrit have gone to Canada (where I personally want to go, right about now, since we're under a heat advisory) or some other country to escape her fate? Or, was the entire world locking up people who were considered useless to society? That, I thought, was a critical missing piece in the book. There's really no mention whether there were options to avoid being locked up in the dome in the first place, apart from finding a way to become "needed", although as the book progresses and people in the outer world become frantic, it appears that the situation may eventually change. Once inside the dome, suicide is impossible -- that much is explained.
Still, you have to wonder why anyone at all would pack a bag and willingly climb into a vehicle to be taken such a place. Perhaps that's another good discussion point: Is it truly possible that anyone could feel so undervalued that donating organs to "needed" people might become, in his or her mind, a worthy possibility? Would one have to be suicidal not to try to find a way to avoid entering the domed world? If so, why not just jump off a nice, tall bridge? I'm just thinking with my fingertips, here. I do think this would be an excellent discussion book.
3.5/5 - Above average. Thought-provoking story, nicely translated writing but I needed a little more of a glimmer of hope, deeper description of the world outside and a little more explanation as to why one couldn't or wouldn't run or hide while still in the outside world. It does have a bit of a Logan's Run feel, but at least with Logan's Run, you knew what happened to people who tried to escape. There is some graphic sex, so this one gets a family-unfriendly warning.
What ho! I see there's going to be another Logan's Run movie, coming out in 2010. Here's the question: Can anyone beat that funky 70's version with Michael York and Jenny Agutter? I'm quite fond of the old movie and I love, love, love the final scene, when they emerge into the outside world. That was filmed at a fountain in Fort Worth, Texas, in case you didn't know.
I am not going to complain about the heat. I am not going to complain about the heat. But, I need to think cool, so here's a nice little picture of a friendly fellow kayaking near a glacier in Alaska:
Ah, I feel better now. He has a coat on!! There was ice floating in the water! If he had an ice-cream bar in that empty hand, it wouldn't have instantly melted! Nice thoughts. On that note, I'm off to stick my head in the freezer. Stay cool!