Published by Other Press on August 29, 2006
Genres: Dystopian, Social Issues
One day in early spring, Dorrit Weger is checked into the Second Reserve Bank Unit for biological material. She is promised a nicely furnished apartment inside the Unit, where she will make new friends, enjoy the state of the art recreation facilities, and live the few remaining days of her life in comfort with people who are just like her. Here, women over the age of fifty and men over sixty–single, childless, and without jobs in progressive industries–are sequestered for their final few years; they are considered outsiders. In the Unit they are expected to contribute themselves for drug and psychological testing, and ultimately donate their organs, little by little, until the final donation. Despite the ruthless nature of this practice, the ethos of this near-future society and the Unit is to take care of others, and Dorrit finds herself living under very pleasant conditions: well-housed, well-fed, and well-attended. She is resigned to her fate and discovers her days there to be rather consoling and peaceful. But when she meets a man inside the Unit and falls in love, the extraordinary becomes a reality and life suddenly turns unbearable. Dorrit is faced with compliance or escape, and…well, then what?
THE UNIT is a gripping exploration of 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. Ninni Holmqvist has created a debut novel of humor, sorrow, and rage about love, the close bonds of friendship, and about a cynical, utilitarian way of thinking disguised as care.
First, a few details about our book club. We have 12 official members (although I think we picked up a new one recently, I won’t count her until she comes back again). 11 of us are women, and 1 man (although he lives far away and rarely attends). Out of the 12 of us, only 2 of us have children. We range in age from 20 somethings to retirement age. 8 of us are married or as good as. The reason I mention this is because the plot of The Unit hits too close to home for some of us.
In The Unit, members of society that reach the age of 50 (for women) or 60 (for men), and who aren’t parents, married or become caregivers of some sort, have two choices. They can kill themselves or contribute to society by going to the Unit, where they will be used for medical experiments and as spare body parts until their final donation. The spare parts go to members of society that the government deems as mattering more.
Obviously there was lots to talk about! From the way that the main characters and so many people in her society just accepted their fate to our own opinions of the premise that only certain people matter in society. Out of those that showed up, only one person disliked the book, which is a pretty big achievement in our group! I wish we had discussed it more, because this is such a great book to really talk about, but sometimes we get off track. I thought The Unit was interesting and definitely a good selection for book club. The book stirred up emotions for me, mostly anger over the total government control and the way people who don’t make the cut are treated as livestock. I can’t stand injustice.