The Unit by Ninni Holmqvist
Other Press, New York, 2009
Won in a give-away.
Dorrit Weger has turned 50. She finds herself in a small, lovely apartment, where every corner, every space, even inside the closet, is in in range of a closed circuit camera. This is the Second Reserve Bank Unit for biological material. As a “dispensable”, unloved and un-needed, Dorrit will live out her final days with others, free of financial worry, as long as she is willing to undergo certain tests and give up vital organs.
Dorrit misses her boyfriend, she missed her house and her dog, but she has no choice in this decision. The laws and procedures for how she will live out her life after the age of 50 are part of the social structure.
Holmqvist’s novel, skillfully translated from the Swedish by Marlaine Delargy, is a mirror of our possible future. Cool and calm in language, nothing is overwrought, it all feels like a stroll down the antiseptic white hallways that lead from one space to another in this self-contained community.
The Unit is a subtle, scary book. With a bit of digging you find that some of the “testing” that goes on in the novel is already happening. Patients are willing to put themselves in mortal danger for the fees they earn. It is not hard to imagine a future where those who do not fill societal needs could be put in such situations. This is speculative fiction at its best.
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