New Internationalist

The Unit

March 2010

by Ninni Holmqvist

Ninni Holmqvist’s début novel is a dystopia in the tradition of Margaret Atwood and Marge Piercy. It is set in a near-future Sweden where society is divided into ‘necessary’ individuals, who have produced offspring and who work in productive jobs, and so-called ‘dispensable’ people. Dispensable women over the age of 50 and men over 60 are sent to live in The Unit, a hermetically sealed community. Here they live apparently idyllic lives, their every need provided for and with ample access to creative endeavours.

Into this community comes Dorrit, a single, childless woman, whose profession and age decree a future spent in The Unit. Dorrit accepts her lot and initially she finds the regime congenial; she makes friends and values the stress-free nature of her days. However, the Faustian nature of the pact the dispensables have made gradually becomes clear; in exchange for unlimited creature comforts, they have agreed to donate their organs for transplantation into the necessary ones. This they will do, organ by organ until the time comes to make the Final Donation. When Dorrit falls in love with another inmate, Johannes, her acceptance of the order of things is shattered and she and Johannes must struggle against insurmountable odds to change their deadly fate.

While the premise of The Unit is fairly standard Science Fiction fare, Holmqvist paces her revelations superbly and the reader is gripped by the atmosphere of slowly mounting claustrophobia as two almost-powerless individuals confront a monolithic and ultimately evil system. 


This column was published in the March 2010 issue of New Internationalist. To read more, buy this issue or subscribe.

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