Review: The Unit by Ninni Holmqvist (with audiobook and book club notes)

13 May

The UnitMy rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

The Unit was a chilling portrait of the near future, not because it is our future, but because of what it says about our present.

Summary via

When Dorrit Wegner turned fifty, the government transferred her to a state-of-the-art facility where she can live out her days in comfort. Her apartment is furnished to her tastes, her meals expertly served, and all at the very reasonable non-negotiable price of one cardiopulmonary system. Once an outsider without family, derided by a society bent on productivity, Dorrit finds within The Unit the company of kindred spirits and a dignity conferred by ‘use’ in medical tests. But when Dorrit also finds love, her peaceful submission is blown apart and she must fight to escape before her ‘final donation’.

The strength of this book is absolutely in the world it builds– the details of how people were selected as being “dispensable”, their bodies sacrificed for the good of others who are needed, and the picture of a society that allows this to happen.

All that is shown directly is the world of The Unit, as the the Second Reserve Bank Unit for biological material is known to those that reside within. Life here is easy, for the most part, unless a drug being studied has particularly unpleasant side effects, and the residents are content, with time available to spend on the activities they had neglected in their life before.

It is clear that life in this Unit isn’t representative of the world as a whole, and probably not of the other Reserve Bank Units (I’m guessing there are is at least one designated for those citizens that do not go along with the plan quite so quietly. I’m guessing their stay is much less pleasant, and significantly shorter.). Through the characters in the Unit, and the stories from their past lives, we learn about the world that put them there.

I really enjoyed the characters. They were people I would have liked and enjoyed time with. Except the small detail that I’m married with a child, I’d fit in well with these people when I hit 50 in not that many more years.  I’d probably even go quietly, given the incentives they had, if it wasn’t for my immediate family ties.  This is a sobering thought.

More than that, they worked well to build an intriguing, believable world, and a compelling story that I cared about.

In the beginning, I had occasional issues with the language of the book (due to it being a translation, I suspect), with written constructs that didn’t quite flow for me. Either I got used to them or the issue cleared up fairly quickly.

I read this with one of my book clubs, and we had a fantastic discussion of it. I’d recommend reading The Unit, on your own or with a group.

Audio Notes

Narrator: I enjoyed Suzanne Toren’s narration.  She was a good match for the character of Dorrit.

Production: I had no issues with the production– I found listening to be entirely natural.

Print vs. Audio: The Unit lent itself well to audio, but I don’t think that listening added to my appreciation of it. (In fact, due to an error of my own, listening detracted to my enjoyment.  I had thought that the book from Audible was two parts long, about 8 hours each, and was setting my expectations of the arc of the story accordingly.  I thought I was about 40% in when the story took a very major turn, and I felt manipulated by this happening with over half the book to go.  Then I thought I was halfway through, and wondering where on earth the book could go from here, and then I realized the book was over).

I’d say whatever format is most convenient for you will be fine.

 Book Club Notes

In general, our book club meetings are 2 hours long.  If we have 1 solid hour of book discussion, I consider the book to be a success.  The Unit kept us going for pretty much the entire time.  We had different interpretations of events, we all had thoughts about the plausibility and sustainability of the world as represented.  We talked about our feelings of being dispensable in society now, even if we don’t meet the criteria outlined there.  We talked about the impact of the book having been written in another country– both translation issues and differences in societal attitudes.  And so on.

I’d highly recommend The Unit for book club discussion.


Posted by on May 13, 2011 in Book Club, books, L, reviews


Tags: , , , ,

5 responses to “Review: The Unit by Ninni Holmqvist (with audiobook and book club notes)

  1. Amanda

    May 13, 2011 at 5:36 pm

    I just read this recently and it’s probably my favorite book read so far this year. I thought it was amazing.

  2. Rebecca Rasmussen

    May 14, 2011 at 7:10 am

    I haven’t even heard of this one! Thank you so much for sharing 🙂

  3. Anna (Diary of an Eccentric)

    May 16, 2011 at 7:25 am

    I loved this book! It was creepy how wonderful the unit sounded despite knowing what was going to happen when you were there. This definitely was a great book club selection!


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