Just as ghost stories are better experienced aloud around a campfire, Ninni Holmqvist’s The Unit is best enjoyed through the intuitive narration of Suzanne Toren. Her sincere and direct intonation serves as a guide through the waters of a cautionary tale. As a listener, you feel the horrors of a controversial government-operative intensified by Toren’s rendition.
Shortly following her 50th birthday, Dorrit Weger is brought to the Second Reserve Bank Unit for biological material, where she will be provided a comfortable apartment surrounded by every luxury she could ask for - from state-of-the-art swimming and diving facilities to an elegant art gallery filled with contemporary exhibitions. She will flourish in her community, she will fall in love, and - best of all - she will never have to worry about finances for the rest of her life.
In Dorrit’s world, we are introduced to a society in which people are either “needed” or “dispensable”. Under this regime, once those who are dispensable reach a certain age, they are expected to sacrifice for the betterment of those who are needed - by checking into the Unit. Behind the walls of the Unit, Dorrit and her peers are required to serve as biomedical lab rats, participating in pharmaceutical experiments and organ donations that will ultimately lead to their death.
Holmqvist’s remarkable novel is a dystopia that asks us to question our contemporary world by holding up a mirror to our societal expectations. A writer and editor of moderate success, Dorrit enters her fifties without a husband or children of her own. She has led a life of quiet happiness with her career, her gardening, and a dog named Jock. But because her life has not contributed to what is conventionally expected of a woman, she is dispensable.
The author’s keen characterization is punctuated by Toren’s narration. At the story’s inception, Dorrit is an obedient individual who feels contempt for her situation but not desperation. But as the story develops, she undergoes a wealth of emotional changes that come alive through Toren’s voice. Furthermore, the novel offers a cast of characters that surround Dorrit, from other dispensables to the Unit’s staff, that Toren aptly portrays through varying cadences.
The Unit will raise evocative questions that will linger in the days after you’ve finished listening. --Suzanne Day