Review: The Unit by Ninni Holmqvist

Summary: One day Dorrit Weger is checked into the Second Reserve Bank Unit for biological material. 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 donate their organs 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. 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.

Genre: science fiction, dystopia
Rating: ★★★★★

The Unit was one of the last books I read in 2021, and, two months later, it’s still a story I think of often. It’s easily one of the saddest dystopian stories I’ve ever read, and I found myself strangely attached to and empathetic toward Dorrit as the story progressed despite feeling little emotions toward her in the beginning. Dystopian stories are very rarely happy, so even though the ending was not necessarily predictable but expected for the genre, I still felt such a heavy heart when I set this book down.

When I started reading this book and got into the world-building, I crazily found myself thinking this was a slightly perfect world. The government mandates shared paternal leave when a couple’s child is born and free childcare for every child until they reach school age. There’s no longer an excuse not to have children, nor is there an excuse not to work when people have children. As Dorrit explains, increasing the gross national product is the ultimate goal.

Adults who have children or work in essential trades are allowed to continue to live their normal, daily lives. However, men and women with no children are sent to a top-of-the-line facility when they reach age 50, where they’re experimented on and are forced to donate their organs until eventually they die. I mean…sign me up. Let me live in a luxurious apartment complex as an old person where maybe I have to take tester medication and donate a kidney or two.

However, the more I read, the more connected I felt to Dorrit and ultimately felt sorry for her. As with women in today’s society, our lives are generally defined not by our successes but by whether we have children or not. We’re often times looked down upon for not having children, whether we choose to be childfree or the decision is made for us. Throughout the story, Dorrit reflects often on her life and the path she took that lead her to wind up in the facility, which was heartbreaking. The facility began to feel like a punishment to men and women like Dorrit. The last years of her life were not her own because she wasn’t deemed worthy to enjoy them.

In my sympathy for Dorrit, I found myself enjoying the relationships that blossom between her and the others in the facility. Despite the horror that is this utopia, Dorrit was able to find some solace and comfort in other people, although it was absolutely devastating to watch as, one by one, each of her friends made their final donation and left the facility, once again leaving Dorrit alone. There is such an extreme level of emptiness in this story that left me feeling absolutely gutted and truly haunted.

I will say that this is not a story for everyone. Three of my friends have read this book since I have, and one of them DNF’d it while the others gave it only two or three stars. This is a short book (only 270 pages), but it moves incredibly slowly. It is often dense and harrowing. I’ve also heard people say it’s a watered-down version of Never Let Me Go, and while there are some obvious similarities here, I couldn’t help but get emotionally attached to Dorrit. And for that reason, I think she, and this story, will always stay with me.

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