Another reviewer perfectly summed up my thoughts as I read “The Unit”. On the surface the story seems a rather Spartan combination of Orwell’s “1984”, Atwood’s “Handmaid’s Tale”, with a good dose of Huxley’s “Brave New World” tossed in. And let us not forget Nolan’s “Logan’s Run” while we’re at it. These being some of my favorite books, one would think a combination would rise to the top of my list. Unfortunately, this book is a four-in-one that doesn’t blend.
Dorrit, a Scandinavian free spirit, has just turned 50. With no job of note and no children, she has become “Disposable” and must therefore move into The Unit, a utopian destination for social misfits. There she will be pampered and never have to worry about money again. She will meet people of like mind and for the first time in her life she will fit in. The catch is that the Unit is a final destination. Being Disposable, she must willingly partake in medical and/or psychological experiments until they kill her. Her “final donation” will be all her organs that are still in working order after the experiments.
I was with our author, Ninni Holmqvist, up to this point. The subtle horror of walking into the Unit is beautifully rendered. It should at least make the reader uneasy. It actually gave me a nightmare. Dorrit cautiously begins to make friends, noting that many of them are avid readers, artists, the educated, the creative. They, like her, did not fit into a rigid corporate model. I’m still an engaged reader, but this is only part one.
For me this is when the book stalls. Dorrit’s observations of the fate of her fellow inmates should invoke the feeling of a noose tightening. And yet she is as placid as the proverbial Hindu cow, even when witnessing one of her new friends suddenly switching genders. Instead of dwelling on her fate Dorrit goes shopping, visits the salon, finds a boyfriend and has a great deal of sex. Well yes, she concludes, it could be unpleasant in The Unit. But look at how *nice* everything is! In fact the most interesting character in the midsection of the story is her pet dog. She misses him and thinks of him fondly.
I think the ending of the book might catch some off guard. But it won’t if you were paying attention. This isn’t a mystery or a “shock ending” so much as it is an observation of what happens to society when placed in a gilded cage. It might be designed to be an indictment of the modern era, and to a certain level this works. Unfortunately this is also where it falls short of the classics. Orwell’s “1984”, Atwood’s “Handmaid’s Tale”, Huxley’s “Brave New World” and Nolan’s “Logan’s Run” all feature people who resist their fate. When your main character is one of the “Sheeple” it may be an excellent comment on society, but it becomes something of a slog to read.
Three out of five stars for an excellent beginning and an interesting idea. The ending may be a sad and painfully true social observation, but I found it unsatisfying.