Hello humans! Today’s book keeps in line with the (unintentional) dystopian theme that seems to have emerged on the blog this month. The Unit is an adult science fiction, dystopian novel, so only a small departure from what I’m used to reading. It’s an interesting concept, no doubt, and it raises some important issues about societal expectations of people. However, I do have some important thoughts I would like to share.
One day in early spring, Dorrit Weger is checked into the Second Reserve Bank Unit for biological material. She is promised a nicely furnished apartment inside the Unit, where she will make new friends, enjoy the state of the art recreation facilities, and live the few remaining days of her life in comfort with people who are just like her. 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 ultimately donate their organs, little by little, 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: well-housed, well-fed, and well-attended. 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. Dorrit is faced with compliance or escape, and…well, then what?
You can see why I was interested in this concept. I think the discussion of older people and children as well as our perception of what is ‘valuable’ in society is certainly something that doesn’t get brought up enough. Perhaps it does more so in adult fiction, it (unsurprisingly) doesn’t come up a lot in YA. I appreciated a book from the perspective of an older woman. I should say that Dorrit isn’t what I would call an ‘old’ person at fifty, especially given the current life expectancy rates. That is one thing that makes this book very powerful, the way it shortens the life of an entire generation.
I wanted to like this book, I wanted to be able to recommend it as something people wanting to engage with these kinds of debates should read. However, there were certain aspects of the book which made the entire thing fall flat. For one thing, there is a moment in the story that to me read as incredibly transphobic, comparing a woman taking hormones that made her appear more male to the idea of dying (that’s not quite as nuanced as the situation is in the book, I grant, but it made me uncomfortable as a reader).
There are also several moments in the book where Dorrit says things which feel like something no woman would say, or at least not in the contexts in which she says them. One that stood out for me is where Dorrit talks about how beautiful women are when they are weak (contrasting that with male strength and protectiveness). In some contexts, I could appreciate that sentiment, but it made me feel like this character was suggesting that women who were strong or independent were somehow not beautiful? Thinking about it now, I can see how that may have been an attempt to show the indoctrination of Dorrit in this society that sees single older women as dispensable, but that doesn’t necessarily come across in an initial reading.
This is an interesting book to read, at times it tugs at your heartstrings and it absolutely makes you think. I don’t think that the main character is relatable enough throughout the entire story to carry the weight of the narrative, I wanted more out of her, more backstory, more decision making or similar. This is an example of a high concept dystopian novel that just falls short of being exceptional.
Should you read this? It has a lot going for it, and I can’t say I didn’t enjoy the read, but I don’t think I would read it a second time.
My rating: 2/5 stars
I received a digital advanced review copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.
What say you? Which adult dystopian novels are your favourites? Let me know in the comments below!