Friday, 4 May 2018

REVIEW - THE UNIT BY NINNI HOLMQVIST

Title: The Unit
Author: Ninni Holmqvist
Genre: General Adult, Sci-Fi, Fantasy
Publisher: One World
Release Date: 4th May 2018

BLURB from Goodreads
Ninni Holmqvist's uncanny dystopian novel envisions a society in the not-so-distant future, where women over fifty and men over sixty who are unmarried and childless are sent to a retirement community called the Unit. They're given lavish apartments set amongst beautiful gardens and state-of-the-art facilities; they're fed elaborate gourmet meals, surrounded by others just like them. It's an idyllic place, but there's a catch: the residents--known as dispensables--must donate their organs, one by one, until the final donation. When Dorrit Weger arrives at the Unit, she resigns herself to this fate, seeking only peace in her final days. But she soon falls in love, and this unexpected, improbable happiness throws the future into doubt.


PURCHASE LINKS
Amazon UK

REVIEW
I was intrigued by the idea of people being classed as "dispensable", what sort of society would be okay with deciding who has a meaningful life and who is to be classed "dispensable". Who decides? Do the people accept their allotted fate? 

The cover I have featured above is the UK version. Below this review I have put a picture of both covers to ask which you prefer. So I shall describe and talk about the UK version which has a background colour of a blue/green colour. The title appears twice on the cover. The word Unit dominates the whole cover and gives it a utilitarian, no fuss, almost medical feel to the book but there is also the title "the Unit" fitted around the large I from the word Unit. The word Unit made me think of cubicle walls of a medical room/ward.
There's also a quote about the book by Margaret Atwood, author of The Handmaids Tale and is a well respected author. So I guess if she has read the book and liked it what better recommendation could it have. I should admit these quotes from author on front are usually one of my "pet hates" but a comment from Margaret Atwood is wow!

The genres I have seen listed for this book are Sci-Fi, Fantasy and General Adult fiction which I do agree with. Personally I would also add Dystopian and Futuristic too. 

The basis of the book is that the world has so many people in it that if by the age of 50 you are not a highly successful person and/or have family relying on you then you are considered dispensable and sent to a Unit where you take part in medical trials, experiments and donate organs to the un-dispensable that are living their fulfilling lives. Once you enter the Unit you have been assigned to you never leave. You are not allowed anymore contact with the outside world, nor are you permitted to walk outside in the fresh air again. You basically give up your freedom the moment you enter the Unit. These Units can't sing their own praises enough, such as how modern they are, how their indoor gardens are so realistic you will think you are outdoors, there are shops you need no money for you just go and choose what you want or request the item you wish for to be ordered in for you. There are movies, books, musical instruments if you want them. The regular monthly intake of newbies that mean a welcome party every month. There are other gatherings such as dances, different restaurants to eat in. If you want to be alone you have your own apartment within the unit. 

The down side of the Unit is obviously kept as secretive and quiet as possible, it certainly isn't widely discussed at any of the newbie meetings or Welcome Parties. When you arrive at the Unit you already know why you are there and that you will be experimented on and be testing new medications etc.

One such trial a female dispensable is put on makes her begin to develop into a male, meaning a deeper voice, more facial and body hair. Some of the tests, experiments, treatments and medications that are being trialed have side effects which can be anything to uncontrollably breaking wind, to being very sick, or even developing serious life threatening disease. The organs that are donated, such as part of an eye or ear that leave the donor blind or deaf. It makes you wonder how these outrageous experiments are allowed to be carried out on live guinea pigs! How can one persons life be deemed less valuable than another's? Then there is the kind of "get out clause" if you cannot cope any longer living in the Unit, which is a "final donation form" you fill in and then you are giving a date to go down to surgery to have all remaining functional organs removed and stored for future use by non dispensable recipients.

My favourite character in the book is Dorrit Weger, she is also the main character of the book. Dorrit has been classified as dispensable. Dorrit seems to have quickly accepted what her new life will be, and realises that as a single woman with no children she is dispensible. This resignation and acceptance of her fate doesn't stop Dorrit musing at how different things could have been. She had been in a long
relationship with a man called Nils who was younger than her. Nils already had a child with someone else but it seems like he kind of wanted to have the best of both wolds, in that he was leading quite a good double life. Though he had never actually said the words "I love you" to Dorrit, when she was nearing he 50th birthday she finally asked him to provide a letter saying he loved her for the authorities. Nils however reveals he wants his child, his son to grow up in a home where both his parents live. Nils breaks down crying saying he cannot lie to the authorities as that would be perjury. Nils continues to howl and say how much he will miss her when she has to leave! Dorrit did not cry, as he did. In fact Dorrit did not cry for her most beloved dog Jock, whom, in my opinion had been a much better companion to her than Nils ever was. Dorrit had found a family nearby that she knew would take care of Jock and give him as much love as she had. 

When we first meet Dorrit she is waiting patiently to be collected from her little home and taken to her "new home" to live in a specially built facility with others like her. Other's that have been deemed dispensable. An unmarked van with blacked out windows arrives to collect Dorrit, she is the only one on the bus apart from the driver. Dorrit cannot see anything outside the van because of the blacked out windows. The only sense that is any use to Dorrit is her hearing, as she can hear the different sounds the van engine makes. Eventually it seems like they maybe in a tunnel of some sort but they don't go out the other side, instead the van stops and she is greeted by a man called Dick and a woman named Henrietta who are both wearing the linden green uniform with the logo of the Unit on the breast pocket. Dorrit recognises the logo from the information pack that had been sent to her a few months ago. Dick and Henrietta escort Dorrit through the complex hallways and lifts and different floors introducing people as they come across them.

Dorrit is surprised by her room/apartment's  fairly generous size and what it contains. It's much more comfortable and furnished a lot better than she had expected. Dorrit is pleased to see the modern tasteful decoration in soft muted colour's. Though Dorrit is not as pleased to notice the camera's and microphones that are hidden in the tiniest nooks and crannies available. Dorrit realises she has no choice but to adapt to this new life she is embarking upon. There is a newbies meeting where they all meet the others in the exact position they are in. There are eight of them in total with only two of them being men. Some of the other newbies that have just arrived at the Unit that Dorrit meets are Annie who had been a hotel receptionist, and Elsa who had worked at the same shoe store since she finished school until now.

In the evening Dorrit and the other newbies get to meet other residents that have been at the Unit much longer. As Dorrit and the newbies become friends with other residents we as readers lean more about what happens at the Unit. 

Majken has been at the Second Reserve Bank Unit for 4 years, she has donated her eggs for stem cell research, donated a kidney, as well as a an auditory bone from her right ear. Majken is now deaf in he right ear. Majken is quite open about the fact he life at the Unit is coming to an end, explaining that in a few weeks she will be donating her pancreas to a student nurse who has four kids.

Dorrit and the other newbies, along with those residents that have been at the Unit longer soon get caught up in the different trials, from fitness trials, to medical trials as well as the organ donation too. The "residents" or "inmates" as they also could be called, form relationships with each other, that are not discouraged as long as these relationships do not interfere with the work being done at the Unit. 
The dispensable's live in what some would see as a life of luxury, a place to live, free of charge, food, clothing, entertainment provided what could they possibly wish for? . . . Their own life? Their own chance at love and a family maybe? Many of the indispensables begin innocent friendship's that rapidly develop into more like a permanent relationship they would have if they were non-dispensable. There are lesbian, gay and heterosexual relationships which are all allowed to continue as long as they do not interfere with the purpose of the Unit. Obviously when one dispensable from a relationship gives their final donation that leaves a grieving dispensable behind. Though this can be avoided by being stoic as both of the dispensable know the consequences of their relationships. Also any of the dispensable can fill in a form to end their own life by donations all their body has to offer and therefore dying themselves too. This seems to have worked, until a
dispensable becomes pregnant and immediately becomes elated with the news presuming now she is to be a mother she will be reclassified as being non-dispensable along with her fellow dispensable partner. I mean her pregnancy changes everything now doesn't it? They can be a family? They can leave the Unit together? Can't they? They are both relatively healthy, they can become a real family and bring up their child?

I found this book to be intriguing, deeply thought provoking, and a book that took you through a whole range of emotions. Who decides who is dispensable? Why should dispensibles be subjected to medical trials and also voluntarily give their organs including vital organs that inevitably cause their death to others considered non-dispensible. I really grew to care a lot about Dorrit who is let down by a dishonest man called Nils whom she thinks loves her and wants to grow old with her. Sadly Nils seems to have just been leading Dorrit on. Then she accepts that her life is that of a dispensable, that her chance of love and her own family is gone, but has it? At times in this book I wanted to scream and shout on behalf of Dorrit who seems to be the "victim" in the book. Yet at the very end of the book she does get her way about one thing. This book honestly makes you think about a lot of difficult subjects that are usually "brushed under the carpet" or only discussed "behind closed doors" such as the whole different class system between the dispensable and indispensable. Then there's the younger man who has been using Dorrit and had little intention of growing old with her. There is also the fact families drift apart and how Dorrit finally learns what happened to her older sister as her life ended. I enjoyed the camaraderie and friendships between those living at the Unit. Those that chose short and sweet love affairs before they became so dispensible it was time for them to make the ultimate sacrifice by donating an organ that would mean they could no longer live. You experience the grief when someone makes their "final donation" and dies. Then there will be another influx of newbies, meaning the cycle begins all over again. I could go on and on about this book, it covers so many different subjects that are amazing conversation starters, or maybe the correct term would be debate starters. 

My first thoughts upon finishing this book were what an abrupt, yet understandable and plausible ending. At first I thought the basis of this book and it's dystopian society was very strange, however the more I read and the further I was pulled into the plot I began to realise that this was something that could actually happen in our near future society.

I really loved reading this book, it felt more than just a story, it feels like we aren't that much removed from the possibility that these Units could be in our future! It really is that believable. I could chat/write and rattle on and on about different aspects in the book. I hope I haven't given too much away. It's a difficult book to talk (I know rave about) without revealing certain facts.



COVER COMPARE
Above are the two covers I have seen for this book. I have described the blue/green one above in my review. The one on the left that is a stark white is a great cover, in that it could be a scene from within the book. 
So which cover do you prefer?

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