The Unit, by Nonni Holmqvist is a strong contender for best book of 2010. Dystopian literature, as my friend Rachel lately pointed out, seems to be one of my areas, if not of expertise, definitely of interest. This book caught my eye on goodreads because of some of its similarities to another favorite of mine, Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go. (I just searched my blog, convinced I would have written a review of that book, since I followed up reading it by recommending and lending it to everyone I could get my hands on. Apparently I didn’t.)
On her 50th birthday, Dorrit packs up and moves from her home, leaving her lover and her dog behind. She enters the unit where she will live out her days with other women over 50 and men over 60 who are now dispensable individuals – people who did not have children and have the foresight to choose a career that bettered the economic whole. With no living offspring who needed them, they are to participate in medical testing and trials until they give their final donations of major organs. (“‘But what about me?'” Dorrit asks vehemently at one point about her sister, who has already finished the process. “‘Perhaps I needed my sister, why doesn’t anybody care about things like that? That brothers and sisters might need each other?'”)
An interesting picture of a world where fetal life supercedes that of our elder population, which I think speaks to some of the complexities that face our country right now. If the government has charge of our health, where do you cut from when the money runs out? As one character disagrees, when Dorrit bitterly says that time and people are both money, “‘People are people,’ he said seriously. ‘Life.'”
Before I leave, my cautions. This is a Swedish author, and the s.x content is a little higher, more stark than most. Be aware. Also, my main problem with the believability of this book is the gentle kindness with which all those in the unit love and support each other. Humanity, as I know it anyway, does not stop to nurture others when being forced to give up their lives for the common good (of those who had foresight to choose a good job and have a child.) While it made for a more peaceful, meaningful narrative, I don’t think it would go down like that.
So many things I would like to say about this book, but I don’t want to wreck it. If you enjoyed Never Let Me Go, or Atwood’s Handmaid’s Tale, or P.D. James’ Children of Men (an excellent book, a terrible movie, by the by) I would strongly, almost vehemently recommend this book. I read it in one day, even though I’m working long hours and exhausted. That should say something to you.