Tuesday, 21 February 2012

The Unit - Ninni Holmqvist

Product Details Dystopian novels only work for me if they are believable.  In this case I am wondering where the actual unit is situated!  Set in a Sweden of the not too distant future, this is what becomes of being a democratic country whose government has voted for what's best for everyone (well, everyone outside the unit).  The Unit is the Second Reserve Bank Unit for Biological Material and they "......will be glad to assist you in becoming a more productive and valuable member of society from the beginning our your stay, through to your final donation...". 

The narrator is Dorrit Weger,  who is checked in to the unit on her fiftieth birthday - and no, there is no choice if you are single, a non-parent, a non-carer, not a brilliant writer, artist, etc or with a job in an industry that needs you.  Dorrit has given up her little house, given her beloved dog Jock away to neighbours with small children who love him, and has arrived inside the unit where she finds she has a small flat of her own, which she can do as she likes with, and decorate as she  wants.  The unit has cafes, theatres, gardens, galleries;  in fact it seems rather like a cruise ship to me - but a last cruise is the trip you are taking with Dorrit.  In the calm atmosphere of the unit, Dorrit soon makes friends, and takes a lover, knowing all the while that at some point she must make her final donation for the good of society.

The sentences are short, there are never too many words used, and the cool, Scandinavian feel of the place stays with me.  That coolness begins to leave a nasty feeling when you realise that in a world of overcrowding, and elderly people living longer and costing money, this might be the ideal solution for governments to take.  In at 50 for women, 60 for men, and there to help society......... compulsorily.  It does not take a great leap to imagine that in the not too distant future, with pension pots running out, hospitals keeping elderly  people alive at enormous expense, those without jobs costing the rest of the population a great deal; this might come up as a lightbulb moment at the desk of a senior civil servant.  It will stay in my mind for a long time, it's a brilliant but haunting novel.