Disclosure: I received an Advance Reader’s Copy of this book for review through LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers Program.
First sentence: It was more comfortable than I could have imagined.
THE UNIT explores a society in the throes of an experiment, in which the “dispensable” ones are convinced under gentle coercion of the importance of sacrificing for the “necessary” ones.
Comments: When I requested this book through LibraryThing, I was intrigued by the concept, which reminded me in some ways of Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go. I read that one a few months ago and found the ideas in it fascinating, but just didn’t connect with it; The Unit seemed to offer another chance to explore some of those themes, so I thought I’d give it a shot.
There are similarities in the two books, which I plan to explore more in another post, but they’re very different as well, and so was my reaction to them. I made that connection with The Unit, and it resonated emotionally as well as intellectually with me in ways that Never Let Me Go didn’t.
The Unit takes place in a modern society where, if you make it to the age of fifty (if you’re a woman – it’s sixty for men) without becoming a parent and/or pursuing a socially-beneficial profession, you are considered “dispensable.” You’re not “needed” – relationships with spouses, siblings, and even pets don’t count, nor do many jobs. However, there are still a few things you can do for “the community;” the Unit will make all the arrangements for them, and they’ll make your life quite comfortable in the bargain.
Dorrit Weger arrives in the Unit at her appointed time, and it doesn’t take long for her to acclimate to its odd little world. After all, nearly everything its residents need is readily provided for them, and not much is required of them other than participation in various scientific studies. She and the other residents have much in common, and she forms some deep and rewarding friendships…but the progress of one of those relationships is a stark reminder that relationships within the Unit don’t count, either. Dorrit’s life takes some unantcipated turns which force her to make some decisions, while other decisions are forced on her.
The Unit was originally published in Sweden in 2006. In translation, the language is uncomplicated and direct, and the story it tells is compelling, chilling in spots, and at times heartbreaking. I thought Dorrit was a fully-realized, all-too-human character. Holmqvist is as interested in exploring Dorrit’s inner life as she is in her outer circumstances; her story grabbed me, and I don’t think it could have ended any other way.
I found The Unit to be unsettling and thought-provoking, and well worth reading unless you require warm fuzzies from your books – it delivers a lot, but not those.
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