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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Allegorical story with a haunting impact
Translated by Marlaine Delargy.

The Unit is the first novel by Ninni Holmqvist, a translator who has previously published three collections of short stories. It is superb: assured, measured, controlled, human and written in that deceptively simple, easy-reading style that draws the reader into very dark depths without consciously being aware of the...
Published on 28 May 2010 by Maxine Clarke

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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars It stays with you
We are introduced to Dorrit and her journey as she arrives in the Unit and explains how she came to be there. How the people end up in the unit and what their purpose is, what they go through and the people she meets and friendships she makes. Dorrit makes a few special friendships and one develops into something more than she could ever have dreamed of.

I...
Published on 21 Jan. 2012 by Lainy


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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Allegorical story with a haunting impact, 28 May 2010
By 
Maxine Clarke "Maxine of Petrona" (Kingston upon Thames, Surrey United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Unit (Paperback)
Translated by Marlaine Delargy.

The Unit is the first novel by Ninni Holmqvist, a translator who has previously published three collections of short stories. It is superb: assured, measured, controlled, human and written in that deceptively simple, easy-reading style that draws the reader into very dark depths without consciously being aware of the direction.

The bare bones of the plot are straightforward. Dorrit, a single woman aged about 50, finds herself institutionalised - voluntarily but in a sinister fashion. The titular unit is a pleasant place in which to live, with landscaped gardens, library, art gallery and many other facilities, although all the residents are under constant surveillance.

Although it isn't hard to guess the purpose of the unit, the way in which the nightmare gradually unfolds is brilliantly told. There are no dramatics or exciting set-pieces, and because we see everything from the point of view of the residents rather than the staff, and hence in human and emotional terms, the impact of the fate of Dorrit's circle of friends is poignant.

Like all good novels, there are layers of allegory. The people who live in the unit are childless, therefore in their previous lives have tended to devote their energies towards creative, intellectual pursuits. The unit is therefore full of authors, artists, and others who are continuing to contribute constructively to society in the hope that their work will be preserved for the future. There are many understated themes running through the novel - satire, social comment, ethics and so on.

The Unit shares its main elements with all good books. It tells an interesting story; has a good plot with a few twists and turns (especially at the end); contains believable characters; is very well written, superbly translated by Marlaine Delargy, who conveys many subtleties so well; and it haunts long after finishing it. The character of the protagonist, Dorrit, as she reflects on her past life and relationships, misses her dog and decides how to handle the amazing situation in which she finds herself half-way through the book, is particularly compelling. I think that populating a novel with a cast of 50- and 60-something characters without children makes for an interestingly unusual view of human behaviour and society, and the background of benign menace provides a sharp antidote to sentimentality.

(A longer version of this review is at my blog Petrona)
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Hauntingly beautiful, 13 Feb. 2012
By 
Lovely Treez (Belfast, N Ireland) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Unit (Kindle Edition)
One of my favourite dystopian novels is Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro and The Unit echoes some of the former's darker themes. However it differs in that there appears to be less smoke and mirrors in the Swedish setting and it is thus a very different creature and a very thought provoking one at that.

The story begins with our narrator, Dorrit, a 50 year old single woman, going to the Second Reserve Bank Unit for Biological Material. In the Unit, her new "home", she leads a comfortable life, sheltered from the pressures of the outside world. Residents can swim, relax in the sauna, go to the theatre, visit art exhibitions - quite a wide and varied lifestyle considering they are not allowed to ever leave the unit or contact friends or family.

Yes, folks, this is Scandinavia but not as we know it - not crime fiction and craggy investigators as this is all legal and above board. Dorrit is one of the "dispensables", those unfortunate childless/single/gay folk who haven't made a meaningful contribution to society by the age of 50 for women, 60 for men (fertility rules!). Dorrit is an author, a creative type like most of her fellow inmates, whose artistic legacy isn't highly valued by the current regime.

So, how can the dispensables give something back to society? The solution is quite straightforward, for starters a kidney, then perhaps a cornea, followed by a liver section all leading up to the piece de resistance, the final donation.

What is more disturbing than all the experiments and organ donations, is the meek acquiesence and acceptance of Dorrit and her fellow dispensables - don't expect any fireworks in the form of revolution, the atmosphere is distinctly Stepford Wives. Ironically, Dorrit finds love for the first time with another resident, Johannes but their happiness is all the more poignant as we know it is short-lived.

Told in simple,unadorned prose this dystopian tale is a compelling read which I found extremely powerful and moving - a story which will remain with me and quite possibly "haunt" me for a long while...
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Is this the future?, 16 Oct. 2009
By 
CJ Craig (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Unit (Paperback)
Unfortunately, this book shares its title with the American television series of the same name so just typing the title into amazon's search engine doesn't bring up the book on the first three pages of searching. This is, I believe, a failure on amazon's part to get books of the same name to also appear on the first page or two. Hope amazon reads this and takes note.
This is a wonderful book in it's writing and translation. No excess words yet everything is described perfectly to give you the sleek Scandinavian feel. Just how many ways can language be stripped to its essentials to make it almost perfectly expressive? The topic is timely yet terrifying if you are anywhere near the age of 50. It cuts too close to the bone to make it comfortable given today's growing tendency to see older persons as dispensible. And that is precisely what this book deals with - the dispensibility of persons and the harvesting of organs plus almost Nazi-like experimentation on single, childless men and women once they reach the age of 50.
This is a great book and should scare the living daylights out of you. A parable for our time? Maybe. But certainly well worth reading and sharing with all the older folks in your life. Don't share it with young people though. We don't want to give them any ideas about our future, do we?
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An alarming and clinically efficient way of ending your life, 13 Jan. 2012
By 
Thomas Cunliffe "Committed to reading" (Sussex, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Unit (Paperback)
I was drawn to read The Unit because I was intrigued to see what Swedish writer Ninni Holmqvist would make of the organ donation theme, so well-covered in Kazuo Ishiguro's book Never Let Me Go. After all, Sweden has an unpleasant history of eugenics having sterilised more mentally ill and deviant people than even Nazi Germany, in a programme that was brought to an end in 1975.

The events in The Unit take place at an unspecified time in the future. The world looks similar to ours but society has moved on. The population is shrinking and priority is given to those who can bear children. Childless, single or gay people are classified as "dispensable" and at the age of 50 for women or 60 for men (men produce viable sperm for longer than women produce viable eggs) they give up their homes and every aspect of their lives and go to live in The Unit where they spend the rest of their days - a place which has all the features of a luxury spa hotel, while going through a series of medical experiments and organ donations which will eventually kill them (via their "final donation").

It is the matter of fact way in which this happens which shows how far this society has travelled. There is no protest on the part of the donors - they accept that this is how things are, and while they lament the loss of their previous lives, they seem content with their lot, forming a mutually supportive society to help them get through their final two to four years (nobody last longer than this).

The book opens with Dorrit, a single 50 year old woman waiting outside her house to be picked up by a dark window'd four wheel drive to be taken away to the Second Reserve Bank. She has had a hard time of it lately. Her lover won't leave his wife for her, commissions for her free-lance writing have dried up, and she can't afford to maintain her house. There is nothing left for her other than to respond to the letter that arrived a few weeks ago telling her to tidy up her life as best she can and prepare for her final journey to The Unit. She has nobody to say goodbye to other than neighbours and she has arranged for her much loved dog "Jock" to go and live with a family who promise to look after him. A poignant moment indeed!

She finds The Unit to be a sort of glorified Holiday Inn. There are gymnasiums and swimming pools, pleasant atrium café areas, walks in quiet gardens set under an artificial roof which mirrors the changing seasons by clever lighting. There is a better social life than most of the dispensables experienced in the outside world and every facility is provided for their amusement - from art galleries and libraries to theatres and massage clinics.

Dorrit soon makes close friends but of course, these people have a habit of disappearing for a couple of days while they donate a kidney or a cornea, returning just a little diminished in some way, but somehow taking it all in their stride for after all this is a well understood destiny to which they have been conditions for many years.

Dorrit takes part in medical experiments herself, finding these exhausting, but at least filling her days and giving her a sense of purpose. She returns to her room to write her novel, under the watchful eye of surveillance cameras located in every part of her apartment, even the bathroom.

The book raises many questions, perhaps the most significant one being what happens when a dispensable become non-dispensable by meeting and falling in love with another dispensable and forming a viable unit of their own. The result is not good although Dorrit seems to find some sort of satisfaction in the outcome.

I though this book was rather good. OK, so it seems similar in some ways to Never Let Me Go, but I don't actually believe that Ninni Holmqvist meant it this way. The Unit has all the hallmarks of wholly original thinking and I'd rather see it as an independent take on the dystopian society genre of books which describe a world of "repressive social control systems and various forms of active and passive coercion" (Wikipedia).

Its a compelling read that kept me turning the pages (well, pressing the next button on my Kindle) and I'd overall I'd score it
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant and heartrending, 2 Jun. 2012
By 
Ailsa M. Hollinshead (Edinburgh UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Unit (Paperback)
I chose this for our book club because I used to read a lot of feminist science fiction and the only author we'd read who falls into that category was Margaret Atwood. I wanted to see if I still liked that genre, and share it with the group. We haven't discussed it yet but I absolutely loved it. It is beautifully written and it's an absolute page turner. It is one of the most disturbing books I have read in a very long time and towards the end, I just couldn't stop crying. All of the characters are likeable and believable but The Unit where they are all living is downright creepy. On the surface it seems like a really nice place to be (if you ignore why you're there) but the way Holmqvist writes made me feel as if I was in there and that made me feel deeply claustrophobic. The socio-political issues that are constantly raised make for very uncomfortable reflection - one could very easily imagine how a society concerned about socio-economic survival would think that somewhere like The Unit was a good idea. The emotional issues that arise out the Unit's existence are also completely believable and it was lovely to see the relationships develop but at the same time, that was what was so disturbing. So, yes, I'm definitely still a fan of feminist sci-fi and I can't recommend this highly enough.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Delete your Goodreads account now, 10 July 2013
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This review is from: The Unit (Kindle Edition)
I'm a huge fan of dystopian literature and, as the cover recommends, really enjoy a good Orwell or Huxley novel, and this book by a novelist who is new to me, was just so fantastic, I sat down to read it and devoured it in three sittings. In fact, it was one of those books where I just didn't want it to end, I was enjoying it so much.

I loved the characters who, as the lead characters in the story, were original in that it was older adults who were cast as the heroes and heroines, who fell in love and found new approaches to life (and death) in the unit. It made me think about my perceptions of older people. In fact, it made me think a lot about my perceptions of people as a whole; of how people perceive us and how we perceive ourselves. It made me think about the people I live with in my own neighbourhood and how some of them clearly think they are better than me and, how, sometimes I'm thinking I'm better than them. In short, it made me think about how people are valued and who we perceive to be valueless in our society, and exactly what right we have to do this. Initially in the story, it is people who have worked in trade industries/menial roles and also those who worked as artists who are the valueless ones. However, the Unit was brilliant as dystopian fiction in that as the number of "dispensable" people began to run out for organ donation/medical research, the goalposts were shifted by those in power and previously needed people became suddenly dispensable to suit the needs of the ruling classes. Suddenly those in "useful" roles such as nurses, etc, are able to be scrapped. Also, some of the "research" which is being carried out is quite clearly pointless and just killing people for the sake of it.

Dorrit was such a good character. She was strongly realised and approachable for the reader. One can completely relate to the decisions she makes (I won't spoil it for you, but after you've read it, ask yourself, would you have acted any differently?) There were moments of genuine emotion in the text, where I was sobbing along with Dorrit for her losses. There is also a really clever bit at the end where Dorrit proves herself to be an unreliable narrator and the reader is forced to question the veracity of her narration of events as a result.

This is a beautifully written book with marvellous characters, a strong storyline and wonderful imagery. I'm only hoping that it's not a premonition for the future - if so, we've had it - consider: "People who read books [...] tend to be dispensable. Extremely." Our only hope is to delete your Goodreads account now.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Exquisitely executed(pardon the pun), 16 Sept. 2011
This review is from: The Unit (Paperback)
The Unit - Ninni Holmqvist

This book does nothing that hasn't been done before, but what it does is do it very well.
It didn't have the big Hollywood feel to it which made it better in my opinion. More realistic throughout and believable that `The Unit' could actually exist in some part of the world.
The book was very easy to read and didn't require too much thought, meaning I could just relax into it and enjoy, just like your supposed to with a book.
A few little saucy sections didn't go unnoticed and a nice twist here and there.

Not something I would have normally gone for but glad I did. 4/5
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4.0 out of 5 stars An impressive debut novel which loses its way towards the end, 18 Nov. 2013
By 
Dr R (Norwich, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Unit (Paperback)
Ninni Holmqvist's dystopian debut novel was published in 2010 in an English translation by Marlaine Delargy. Despite living in Shropshire, Delargy sprinkles a few trans-Atlanticisms into her text.

In a Sweden of the future, 50-year old women and 60-year old men without children or spouses, and who have no essential societal or economic responsibilities are considered to be "dispensable" and are taken to live in a Reserve Bank Unit for the remainder of their lives. There they are looked after and nourished, so that when the need arises their organs and other body parts can be harvested and, if necessarily, stored to improve the lives of people in society who create more for the national economy. This is not a Big Brother imposition but has been arrived at democratically through a national referendum as befits its Nordic location. However, it seems likely that men and women in the initially-identified dispensable categories would be in the minority. Since we are told that numbers of incoming `dispensables' are declining plans will need to be drawn up to identify the next categories.

Many of those coming into the Unit have never been treated with such respect and humanity before and so are happy to comply with what is expected of them. They are free to explore and develop new interests, occupations and even relationships, although this cannot alter the fateful decision about their `dispensability'. Intellectuals populate the unit, since "people who read books tend to be dispensable". Repayment is through participation in medical, physical or psychological studies, and through donations of various organs until the `final donation' of a heart, second kidney or remaining vital organ is required.

The narrator is Dorrit Weger, a not-so-successful writer who had been living alone in a run-down house with her dog, Jock. She had been having an affair with Nils who, when asked by Dorrit to leave his wife and live with her, thereby disqualifying her from going into the Unit, declines. Quite rightly, it is Jock rather than Nils that Dorrit will miss after she is taken by taxi to the Second Unit.

The author sets her story in a future that seems quite possible, a realistic progression of a welfare state at the beginning of the 21st century. The Units themselves are not at all threatening, as Dorrit finds, "It was more comfortable than I could have imagined. A room of my own with a bathroom, or rather an apartment of my own, because there were two rooms: a bedroom and a living room with a kitchenette. It was light and spacious, furnished in a modern style and tastefully decorated in muted colours" Even the presence of the monitoring cameras and microphones is soon forgotten. For a day or two, new arrivals may be nervous and unsettled, but the friendly staff and supportive `dispensables' soon calm their fears.

By focussing primarily on the interactions and relationships between Dorrit and the other `dispensables', the author does not involve the reader in the everyday operation and inner workings of the Unit, experiments are arranged and populated by subjects and controls, but even when the results are unexpected they are presented in an unemotional manner. The important issue is to have identified the scientific reasons why the experiment yielded the outcome that it did. However, the idea that organ donations would be viable from subjects who had been involved in recent medical experiments, including `nuclear testing', whatever that is, is somewhat fanciful.

Dorrit's artistic friend Majken has an exhibition in the Unit but it is only in describing its aftermath that we are reminded why Dorrit is there. She meets a fellow writer, Johannes, and they become romantically involved. Most of their time is spent together, living in the way that was demanded and expected outside the Unit. However, Dorrit's pregnancy brings with it a further demonstration of her `dispensability'. She can choose to have the foetus transferred to a "useful" person outside the Unit, or have the baby and immediately give it up for adoption. The baby is offered, just like an organ, to those making a positive contribution to society.

Until this point in the story, the world outside the Unit has only occasionally been mentioned, mainly when Dorrit is dreaming of life with Jock and Nils. Certainly the outside world has already forgotten her and her fellow `dispensables'. The Unit has no windows through which to view the world left behind, although making contact turns out to be surprisingly easy. The outside world is now brought centre stage by the author as a result of Dorrit's chance meeting with a sympathetic nurse who gives Dorrit a key card and the necessary password to allow her to escape. This changes the nature of the novel which, to its detriment, now becomes concerned with whether Dorrit will be able to keep hiding the key card from the cameras? if she can, will she try to escape? if she does, will she succeed? We also find out that not everything that Dorrit has told us is the truth, "in this story I have not revealed the true circumstances under which I received the key card".

The language of the novel, well translated, is cool and precise, with emotion kept tightly under control. The book shows how adaptable, even acquiescent, people are even when confronted by inhuman situations and choices. Ultimately, however, Dorrit's voice failed to convince me once she had met the nurse who offers her a third option. The author appears to have become just as much trapped within the Unit as has Dorrit. However,for most of the time this is an impressive first novel that poses some significant questions about personal ethics and morality
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5.0 out of 5 stars Sugar coated horror, 18 July 2013
By 
MisterHobgoblin (Melbourne) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Unit (Paperback)
The Unit bears more than a passing resemblence to Kazuo Ishiguro's masterful Never Let Me Go. The Unit was published slightly later, but close enough in time for plausible deniability.

The novel is set in a near future Sweden which has voted to take people who are clearly never going to be needed (age 50 for women, age 60 for men) and use them for medical experimentation and organ donation. We follow the life of Dorrit, a lonely 50 year old woman who never had children and never married despite a late, half-hearted attempt to snare a married man. We see her admission to the Unit, the medical facility that will be her new home until she has donated vital organs and get some perspective on the rather sad life she has led up to that point. Dorrit had been a moderately successful writer, but in future world writers are not seen as economically necessary. The only people who are needed are those with children or the lucky few whose work skills are sufficiently scarce to make then needed by the nation. Dorrit and her fellow un-needed people have generally led solitary lives. Their absence is hardly noticed and most have drifted towards their admission date with little resistance.

Inside the Unit, there is a thriving but institutionalised community. Every month, a banquet is held to welcome the new intake. There are boutique shops, cafes, gardens, social activities, swimming and sports facilities. The irony is that, for many residents, their short time in the Unit is happier and more fulfilling than life had ever been on the outside. The implication, clearly, is that when time is limited you value it and make more of it than when it seems infinite. And this cashless, care-free society is genuinely paradisiac, except that there is no way out, no external windows, no privacy and no sense of the passage of time. Festivals are not celebrated; external news is irrelevant. Oh, and there's... <<shudder>> ... no alcohol! And, of course, many of the residents are in various stages of induced disease or carry the scars and disabilities associated with having spare parts removed. It is a sugar coated horror.

There is plot development as, just like in Never Let Me Go, rumours of a way out emerge. It provides some suspense, but the plot is secondary to the depiction of this utopia and the characterisation. Some may see some of the characters as rather cliched but put together, they represent a whole psyche. They allow the reader to re-evaluate his or her own life and learned fatalism. The reader will inevitably self-identify with either the needed or the un-needed category. Being needed won't necessarily make you think that the program of medical experimentation is justified, but will make the reader see Dorrit and her fellow travellers as deserving of pity rather than deserving of opportunity. It's quite subtle, but it's there. Middle aged readers, even those who are needed, might ask themselves whether they are just treading water until they die or whether they are actually also living for the moment.

The ending, without giving anything away, is deeply troubling.

In the final analysis, it doesn't really matter whether Ninni copied Ish or Ish copied Ninni - The Unit is a sublime book in its own right, written with perfect pace and plain but beautiful prose. Both books stand alone on their own merits.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars It stays with you, 21 Jan. 2012
By 
Lainy (Bonnie Scotland) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Unit (Kindle Edition)
We are introduced to Dorrit and her journey as she arrives in the Unit and explains how she came to be there. How the people end up in the unit and what their purpose is, what they go through and the people she meets and friendships she makes. Dorrit makes a few special friendships and one develops into something more than she could ever have dreamed of.

I found the book really slow going and to be honest nothing really happened until half way through and even then it wasn't a huge oh my God, it was very gradual. Everything is explained out and we are taken through the daily ritual until some kind of routine is established. The donations and experiments, side effects, the ups and downs and how they get through what they face everyday.

Despite it being slow I actually quite liked the book. The idea is for me totally new, I have never read anything like that before and it stays with you after you finish. The end disappointed me a bit because of how it turned, an unexpected twist but some people may actually like it. If you fancy something different and don't mind it being slow paced it is definitely worth reading, 3/5 for me.
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The Unit
The Unit by Ninni Holmqvist (Paperback - 1 Mar. 2010)
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