Imagine this: you’re a woman, your fiftieth birthday (or sixtieth, for the males out there) is quickly approaching, and you’re unwed, without children, and you have a job which isn’t ‘contributing to society’. Instead of enjoying your well-earned retirement, you’re being shipped off to what can only be described as secure unit for the ‘dispensable’, where you’re forced to participate in various scientific experiments, whilst they gradually harvest your organs for use in the outside world. Excited?
Holmqvist’s The Unit is unlike other stories set in a dystopian future, due to the reality that what’s going on ‘behind the scenes’ is not so much a dirty secret, but something accepted by all – especially our protagonist, Dorrit. We meet Dorrit as a strong, independent woman on her fiftieth birthday, who is already fully aware of what is in store for her at the Unit. Unpredictably, for both Dorrit and the reader, the Unit on first impressions is far better than imagined. With top of the range restaurants, gyms and boutiques all surrounded by picturesque gardens, with no financial or societal pressures, it seems as if this Scandinavian community really do know how to treat their elders after all.
Despite this, there is a definite sense of hostility towards those who are deemed ‘useful’ on the outside. As a reader, you would expect this story to portray some sort of rebellion; from the offset, you really want the characters to fight back, to escape and become heroes, and for society to change for the better, but everyone within the Unit seems to have simply accepted their fate. It is this acceptance of fate which makes the story all that more haunting and kind of unsettling.
The Unit brings up the discussion of freedom – would we rather have a life within the Unit, devoid of all conventional freedom but finally getting to experience a sense of belonging within a community; or outside, potentially forced into an unwanted career and marriage with children but without the fear of what’s going to happen next? Ultimately, which of these options truly represents freedom?
I could not put this book down – after having finished the whole thing in 3 days, I was simply bursting to talk to someone, anyone, about what I’d just read. Full of secrets, twists and heartbreaking side plots, I would wholeheartedly recommend this to anyone who fancies an intense yet relatable read.
Words by Hayley Lynes