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The Unit

The Unit

3.9 53
by Ninni Holmqvist, Marlaine Delargy

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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


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?

THE UNIT is a gripping exploration of a society in the throes of an experiment, in which the “dispensable” ones are convinced under gentle coercion of the importance of sacrificing for the “necessary” ones. Ninni Holmqvist has created a debut novel of humor, sorrow, and rage about love, the close bonds of friendship, and about a cynical, utilitarian way of thinking disguised as care.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

Editorial Reviews

Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers
A taut, surreal debut novel from Sweden, The Unit is a surprising celebration of love and life in the face of certain death. Dorrit Weger is a writer who has just turned 50. In middle age, without children, great professional success, or work in a necessary industry, she's considered "dispensable" and taken to live at the Second Reserve Unit for Biological Material. There she is expected to act as a human guinea pig, undergoing increasingly risky scientific experiments and donating her organs to "needed" members of society, until she makes her "final donation." But the world she enters is also a retreat from a world that has rejected those on the margins of society. In the "luxury slaughterhouse," Dorrit becomes part of a caring group of friends and even falls in love, causing her life to take an unexpected turn.

With a voice reminiscent of such disparate masters as Margaret Atwood and Ray Bradbury, Holmqvist has created a fascinating portrait of a stark society that cares only for its most productive members. The Unit explores how far society can go to shun those unwilling to conform, and how those exiled can create their own community of love and caring, even under the darkest of circumstances. (Fall 2009 Selection)
Publishers Weekly

Swedish author Holmqvist's unconvincing debut, part of a wave of dystopias hitting this summer, is set in a near future where men and women deemed "dispensable"-those unattached, childless, employed in nonessential professions-are checked into reserve bank units for biological material and become organ donors and subjects of pharmaceutical and psychological experiments. When Dorrit Weger, who has lived her adult life isolated and on the brink of poverty, is admitted to the unit, she finds, to her surprise, comfort, friendship and love. Though the residents are under constant surveillance, their accommodations are luxurious, and in their shared plight they develop an intimacy rarely enjoyed in the outside world. But an unlikely development forces Dorrit to confront unexpected choices. Unfortunately, Holmqvist fails to fully sell the future she posits, and Dorrit's underdeveloped voice doesn't do much to convey the direness of her situation. Holmqvist's exploration of female desire, human need and the purpose of life has its moments, but the novel suffers in comparison with similar novels such as The Handmaid's Tale and Never Let Me Go. (June)

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Kirkus Reviews
Pricey shops that require no money. Gardens that trump Monet's. Creature comforts galore. But Swedish ace Holmqvist's English-language debut soon discloses a catch. The shelf-life for inhabitants of this paradise is about six years. This is the Second Reserve Bank Unit, into which the State herds women 50 and up, and men 60 and over, to use for biological material. They're fattened like calves, but there's civic-duty payback: mandatory organ donation, culminating in the final "gift" of their lungs and hearts. Big Brother doesn't take every oldster, just those termed "dispensables": the cash-strapped, underachieving or, worst of all, childless. Dorrit Weger, freelance writer, dog-lover and free sprit, is initially mesmerized by her new surroundings. She feels a sense of community, a closeness never offered by Nils, the inadequate lover who would never leave his wife. And she takes pride in being needed when she's enlisted in one of the Unit's many medical experiments. It's a benign investigation into the effects of exercise, but in the cafeteria and on the lush grounds Dorrit soon notices other campers sleepwalking like zombies or displaying weirdly blotched skin. As her roommates are ushered off one by one to their final donations, she panics into the arms of Johannes, a fellow Unit resident who actually manages to impregnate her. Dazzled by upcoming motherhood, Dorrit is certain her bulging belly will gain her freedom. Proven at last productive, she's bound to be rewarded by the State . . . .isn't she? In her first novel, short-story writer Holmqvist echoes political-science treatises like Hobbes' Leviathan and Rousseau's The Social Contract (gone decidedly mad here), as well as theusual dystopian novels from Brave New World to 1984. Orwellian horrors in a Xanadu on Xanax-creepily profound and most provocative. Agent: Magdelena Hedlund/Norstedts Agency
From the Publisher
“A haunting, deadpan tale set vaguely in the Scandinavian future…Holmqvist’s spare prose interweaves the Unit’s pleasures and cruelties with exquisite matter-of-factness…[Holmqvist] turns the screw, presenting a set of events so miraculous and abominable that they literally made me gasp.” —Washington Post
“Orwellian horrors in a Xanadu on Xanax—creepily profound and most provocative.” —Kirkus Reviews

 “This haunting first novel imagines a nation in which men and women who haven’t had children by a certain age are taken to a ‘reserve bank unit for biological material’ and subjected to various physical and psychological experiments, while waiting to have their organs harvested for ‘needed’ citizens in the outside world… Holmqvist evocatively details the experiences of a woman who falls in love with another resident, and at least momentarily attempts to escape her fate.” —New Yorker
“This is one of the best books I’ve read over the past two years…Thought-provoking and emotionally-moving, The Unit is a book you’ll be discussing with others long after you’re done reading it.” —Orlando Sentinel
“Like Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, this novel imagines a chilling dystopia: single, childless, midlife women are considered dispensable. At 50 the narrator, Dorrit, is taken to a facility where non-vital organs will be harvested one by one for people more valued by society; she knows that eventually she’ll have to sacrifice something essential’ like her heart. Dorrit accepts her fate–until she falls in love and finds herself breaking the rules.” —More magazine
“Holmqvist handles her dystopia with muted, subtle care…Neither satirical nor polemical, The Unit manages to express a fair degree of moral outrage without ever moralizing…it has enough spooks to make it a feminist, philosophical page-turner.” —Time Out Chicago
The Unit raises issues of love, gender, freedom, and social mores through the perspective of how we assess an individual’s contribution to society…Holmqvist’s ability to invest the reader in both the story and the characters is exceptional. It is a book you hesitate to put down…The Unit deserves a wide readership.” —Blogcritics.org

“Chilling…stunning…Holmqvist’s fluid, mesmerizing novel offers unnerving commentary on the way society devalues artistic creation while elevating procreation, and speculation on what it would be like if that was taken to an extreme. For Orwell and Huxley fans.” —Booklist
“An exploration of female desire, human need, and the purpose of life.” —Publishers Weekly

“The message is bold if not on the nose: If you don’t fall into a classic nuclear family, then your value as a human are the spare parts you can give those who do contribute to traditional family structures. The book’s main character, a writer named Dorrit, is forced to think about the meaning of her life. She’d had a lover, but he wouldn’t leave his wife; she’d birthed art, but never a child. Holmqvist’s writing is clear and precise…the clinical tone contributes to the The Unit’s eeriness. The Unit itself is a place of luxury—amenities include a library, a cafe, immaculately manicured gardens—but it feels as much like home to Dorrit as the promotional photos of an upscale condo. Holmqvist’s is a book of quiet cruelty, and perhaps the most harrowing twist of all is that the world outside the walls of the Unit—one with married couples, one with children—seems even worse. In that way, The Unit’s strength is uncovering beauty in bleakness.”—GQ.com

“Ninni Holmqvist’s The Unit, originally published in 2006, offers a shrewd, timely exploration of gender…The novel has been compared to The Handmaid’s Tale, but where Margaret Atwood’s classic focuses on procreation, Holmqvist’s novel feels broader, holding both capitalism and traditional gender roles under a harsh light. Dorrit is honest about her life, and she wonders whether the freedom she had in her youth was worth the price she pays now. Any woman — young or old — will relate to her plight.” —Washington Post 

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Other Press, LLC
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Read an Excerpt

It was more comfortable than I could have imagined. A room of my own with a bathroom, or rather a suite 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 colors. True, the tiniest nook or cranny was monitored by cameras, and I would soon realize there were hidden microphones there too. But the cameras weren’t hidden. There was one in each corner of the ceiling–small but perfectly visible–and in every corner and every hallway that wasn’t visible from the ceiling; inside the closets, for example, and behind doors and protruding cabinets. Even under the bed and under the sink in the kitchenette. Anywhere a person might crawl in or curl up, there was a camera. Sometimes as you moved through a room they followed you with their one-eyed stare. A faint humming noise gave away the fact that at that particular moment someone on the surveillance team was paying close attention to what you were doing. Even the bathroom was monitored. There were no less than three cameras within that small space, two on the ceiling and one underneath the wash basin. This meticulous surveillance applied not only to the private suites, but also to the communal areas. And of course nothing else was to be expected. It was not the intention that anyone should be able to take their own life or harm themselves in some other way. Not once you were here. You should have sorted that out beforehand, if you were thinking along those lines.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

Meet the Author

Ninni Holmqvist

Ninni Holmqvist was born in 1958 and lives in Skåne, Sweden. She made her debut in 1995 with the short story collection Suit [Kostym] and has published two further collections of short stories since then. She also works as a translator. The Unit marks Holmqvist’s debut as a novelist.

Marlaine Delargy

Marlaine Delargy has translated novels by John Ajvide Lindqvist, Kristina Ohlsson, and Helene Tursten, as well as The Unit by Ninni Holmqvist (Other Press) and Therese Bohman’s Drowned (Other Press). She lives in England.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

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The Unit 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 52 reviews.
divideByZero More than 1 year ago
The characters are well done and the plot is smooth and polished. To me the premise of the plot is not meant to be a possible future, but more a starting point for a question. For whatever reason, as the complete social picture outside the complex is not entirely expanded upon, the characters have accepted the fact that one will fulfill this obligation in the Unit once they are no longer useful to society. With that as an accepted obligation it really lets the author bring up the point of the individual over the group or the other way around? What is it that makes life important, to what lengths will one sacrifice and how will it hold meaning. These are a few of the things that ran through my mind while reading the book. Sometimes one must lose to win is another. But most of all is how important individual experience is. I enjoyed this book and I felt like I got to know a few people in the process.
TiBookChatter More than 1 year ago
"The Unit" is deceptively pleasant. Picture a gorgeous resort, complete with spas, recreational facilities, gyms, pools, libraries, lots of restaurants to eat in and beautiful gardens. Add to that, well-appointed apartments and access to the best medical care. All of this for nothing. Well, not quite. As the residents live out their lives, they are subjected to medical experiments and research trials that include mind-altering drugs, rashes, painful skin ailments, or.organ donation if the Unit requires it. As you can imagine, some organ donations could mean the end of the line for the resident. They call this, the "final" donation and it gave me chills every time I came across the term. Although there are rules and 24-hour surveillance cameras, the residents grow accustomed to life in the Unit and actually begin to look forward to when they can once again be necessary and contribute whatever is needed to those on the outside. As Dorrit settles into her new life, she doesn't expect to find love so she is quite surprised when she does. This added element of complication, forces her to consider her options. None of which seem ideal. The Unit is highly stylized in the telling. As a reader, I found myself completely absorbed in the actual structure of the Unit itself. It seemed very modern, but not too far into the distant future which was a bit unsettling to me. The author paints a bleak, chilling tale yet everyone is pleasant.polite and even caring which is surprising in that cold, antiseptic environment. The residents and staff treat each other with great respect. They function for the good of society and all seem willing to contribute in their own way. It's frightening really. It's perfect in one sense but completely horrific in another. Holmqvist does an excellent job of touching on the issues. Ageism, the ability to contribute, value and self-worth are all themes here. But. I was a tad disappointed with the development of many of the characters. All of them seemed to be somewhat guarded. I wanted more emotion. There was some, but certain situations called for more. There was a numbness to them. Perhaps that was intended, given their circumstances. Needless to say, I felt a bit detached from them. Overall, I will still recommend it to anyone who enjoys dystopian fiction, because it was good, and well written, but it didn't leave me with the broad, sweeping. save the world feeling that I usually get from other novels like it.
pianistnao More than 1 year ago
This was one of New York Times' summer reading recommendations for 2009. I soon purchased after the list was published and read at a stretch. It discloses our modern era's implicit as well as explicit notion--childless people(especially women)= dispensable. About a few years ago, I heard in Japan there was a new slang "make-inu" translated in Japanese as "loser dog". This means you are a so-so successful female who has a fine career in late 30s/in 40s who is SINGLE and NO KIDS. Japanese society labels you as a loser. This book made me think about life. Very good plot.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A fascinating topic that was well executed and writing; leaving readers with no easy answer but an interesting philosophical question.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The Unit is one of those books that is so scary because it could actually happen in the future. The writing style captured and held my attention from the first word to the last page. Some of the plot was predictable, but the author always managed to put an unforseeable spin or twist on it. Fantastic story that is somehow both chilling and heartwarming.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I just found this incredibly boring and unrealistic. If I didnt know better I would swear it was written by a man with a really strong dislike for women in general. Do NOT compare it in any way to A Handmaids Tale-- that would be a laughably transparent effort to sell a few more copies of this strange gruel.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
So, this was a interesting premise and quick read. It wasnt five star worthy but i didnt think i had wasted my time. One weird part where the character speaks to the reader threw me off a bit. If your looking for something between series you should give it a try.
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afurz More than 1 year ago
This book I read for a book club I am in. I would not have picked it myself, it was an okay read. But not sure I would recommend it highly.
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