Translated Fiction

The Unit – Ninni Holmqvist

Posted in Dystopian Fiction, Translated Fiction on February 13th, 2012 by admin – 8 Comments

The Unit

My Rating – 4 Stars

One of my favourite dystopian novels is Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro and The Unit echoes some of the former’s darker themes.  However it differs in that there appears to be less smoke and mirrors in the Swedish setting and it is thus a very different creature and a very thought provoking one at that.

The story begins with our narrator, Dorrit, a 50 year old single woman, going to the Second Reserve Bank Unit for Biological Material.  In the Unit, her new “home”, she leads a comfortable life, sheltered from the pressures of the outside world.  Residents can swim, relax in the sauna, go to the theatre, visit art exhibitions – quite a wide and varied lifestyle considering they are not allowed to ever leave the unit or contact friends or family.

Yes, folks, this is Scandinavia but  not as we know it – not crime fiction and craggy investigators as this is all legal and above board.  Dorrit is one of the “dispensables”, those unfortunate childless/single/gay folk who haven’t made a meaningful contribution to society by the age of 50 for women, 60 for men (fertility rules!).  Dorrit is an author, a creative type like most of her fellow inmates, whose artistic legacy isn’t highly valued by the current regime.

So, how can the dispensables give something back to society?  The solution is quite straightforward, for starters a kidney, then perhaps a cornea, followed by a liver section all leading up to the piece de resistance, the final donation.

What is more disturbing than all the experiments and organ donations, is the meek acquiesence and acceptance of Dorrit and her fellow dispensables – don’t expect any fireworks in the form of revolution, the atmosphere is distinctly Stepford Wives.   Ironically, Dorrit finds love for the first time with another resident, Johannes but their happiness is all the more poignant as we know it is short-lived.

Told in simple,unadorned prose this dystopian tale is a compelling read which I found extremely powerful and moving – a story which will remain with me and quite possibly “haunt” me for a long while…

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