23 July 09 | Chad W. Post

Our latest review is of Ninni Holmqvist’s The Unit, which was translated from the Swedish by Marlaine Delargy and published by Other Press.

Pretty interesting book (at least for the first two-thirds) about a future Sweden where those who are unwed and childless at the age of 50 have to live the rest of their lives in a Reserve Bank Unit:

Broadly speaking, Ninni Holmqvist’s debut novel fits into the tradition of dystopian literature. In the Sweden she describes, a law has been passed that women at the age of 50 (and men at the age of 60) who have no living children or spouses are deemed “dispensable” and sent to live at a Reserve Bank Unit for the rest of their lives. While in “the Unit,” the “dispensables” participate in experiments (psychological and physical) and donate various organs (kidneys, corneas, etc.) to the “useful” members of society, up until the day that they make their “final donation.” In other words, these freeloaders are essentially harvested for the benefit of those who are contributing more to society.

In depicting a dystopia, Holmqvist faces the almost intractable problem of making sure that this future seems believable, seems connected to our present, yet sets forth a new set of rules for how human behavior is governed. The best books in this tradition are the ones that depict a future that seems so potentially possible that the reader doesn’t ask too many questions. Holmqvist isn’t perfect with this, but she does provide a sort of “live your life alone, spend the end of it giving back to society” mantra that sort of makes sense. (And may make more sense in Scandinavia?) It’s implied on occasion that economics and general consumption are behind the creation of this system — if you’re not breeding and increasing society’s consumption, you’re dispensable — which is uber-creepy.

Aside from the suspension of belief necessary to accept the creation of the Units, this book is actually incredibly straight-forward — essentially just a love story in a weird context.

Click here for the full review.


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