2010 Books in Translation Science Fiction

The Unit – Ninni Holmqvist

  Translated from the Swedish by Marlaine Delargy

If there is a fine line between love and hate then this book is managing to balance on it! I was completely gripped to the text, but everything about the plot frustrated me. I was inwardly groaning as I read each new development, unable to believe what was happening. I am a big fan of dystopian fiction, but the plot was so farcical that it lacked the scary, thought-provoking response that this genre normally delivers.

The Unit is a state-of-the-art facility to which all childless, singles are sent once they fail to be of use to society. If they aren’t in an important job then all females are sent at the age of 50 and men on their 60th birthday. Whilst in the facility they are well looked after, but over time all their organs are harvested and donated to younger members of the population. They are also subjected to scientific experiments; until after a few years they make their final donation….

My main problem was that the whole idea had so many flaws:

  • Why wouldn’t all the single people just find someone to marry? If I knew I could avoid having all my body parts removed one by one then I wouldn’t be that fussy about who I married!
  • Wouldn’t it be easier to just kill them when they reached the specified age instead of paying for all those fancy facilities?
  • Why were they doing research on the people and then using their organs – surely this would damage the tissues and leave them inappropriate for use in others?

I also had major problems with the plot. I could list lots of examples, but the major ones were:


(highlight to view)

  • Pregnant?!
  • Why did she return after escaping?!

I was almost shouting at the book. I couldn’t believe what was happening!

This book is easy to read and a real page turner. I can’t really fault the controlled, sparse writing and I admit there were a few emotional moments, but I’m afraid the plot wasn’t on my wavelength.

Overall I was so infuriated with this book that I can’t recommend it, but it is a fine line between love and hate…..

The thoughts of other bloggers:

…..a gripping, heart wrenching, thought provoking read. My Friend Amy

… will make you think twice about a whole host of issues, and is a natural for book club discussions. Rhapsody in Books

I fall short of adoration with The Unit, but I sure did like it a great deal. Galley Smith

Did anyone else find the plot frustrating?

34 replies on “The Unit – Ninni Holmqvist”

Verity, Yes. It does seem to have borrowed a lot from Never Let Me Go, but somehow NLMG made sense to me and he made it all seem plausible. I was questioning almost everything that happened in The Unit. It shows I was very engaged with the text, but plots should hold up to more scrutiny than that. 🙁

I haven’t read this one but I do plan to at some point. Sorry it was frustrating. Oddly, I felt the same way – that line between love and hate – about Delirium which i just reviewed yesterday.

I’ve had this one on my TBR for awhile but haven’t found it at my used bookstore yet. I think if I do I’ll still read it, because the premise does sound very interesting, but I’ll be prepared to be annoyed.

Brenna, It has been on my wishlist for over a year – I spotted a copy when I was visiting a different library and snapped it up. I hope you have similar luck finding a copy 🙂

Hmmm this sounds like its either going to annoy me as much as its bothered you or I am going to love it. I get what you mean about the issues you had with it but I think in fiction we just need to suspend belief, I guess its all about if the author can make us believe in the unbelieveable?

Simon, I agree with you. Some authors (eg China Mieville & Haruki Murakami) can make me believe impossible things are happening, but I was questioning everything in this book. Most people seem to love this one, so perhaps the scientist in me is being overly fussy? I’d be interested to see your thoughts though. Enjoy 🙂

Sounds like a “check your brain at the door” kind of experience. I hate that. I want the author to be at least as smart as I am. I you can see these holes in the plot then the author should have seen them and dealt with them somehow.

This is the exact problem I had with Child 44 a few years ago, but I think it’s a much bigger issue with science fiction like this. World building is key. If you can’t believe the world the author is creating, then the book is a failure.

cbjames, I didn’t have the same problems with Child 44. I guess the number of consequences added up in Child 44, but individually none of them seemed unbelievable.

I agree about the world building. This basic premise of this book could have worked, but my questions remained unanswered and so the tiny holes I spotted in the beginning kept being magnified 🙁

Regarding the second point in your spoiler section, to which I will only refer obliquely, I think that doing it that way would have required a whole additional book, and then we would have all been bitching that it turned out to be yet another dyad or trilogy! :–) Beyond that, I think it worked to make a point, even though I hated that development. (wish I could be more clear; am hoping you know what I mean!) :–)

rhapsodyinbooks, I take your point about a sequel, but I don’t understand why it wasn’t more secure. That whole plot point should have been left out. Hope you understand what I’m getting at – trying not to leave obvious spoilers 😉

I agree with you on Child 44…I was able to buy into all that madness and enjoy the ride. The question for me really becomes whether I’m smart enough or academic enough to spot certain flaws and whether they would bother me. Perfect recent example of this is Delirium. At first the premise seemed silly but I stopped tryihg to find holes and actually ended up enjoying it. These faults that you found seem pretty big and hard to overlook. Hmmm…

Sandy, You and Amanda are really intriguing me with these mentions of Delirium. I think I need to read it just to understand what you are talking about!

I don’t think you have to be very smart to spot that you could avoid certain death by marrying any random person, but perhaps I’m underestimating my intelligence 😉 It is good to know I’d be one of the few to save myself if such a situation ever ocurred!!!

Chinoiseries, I haven’t heard of The Island, but I will see if I can watch it – I love to watch anything like this.

I hope that you enjoy The Unit – at least you know it is a fast paced, gripping read 🙂

I have this book for the Nordic Challenge (reading in March) and I must say your comments made me a bit nervous about starting it! Thanks for your review — I skipped the spoilers, since I’m going to read it, but I’ll revisit your review when I’m finished with it.

LOL! Now tell us how you really feel, Jackie. 😉

I read this one last year and quite liked it for its thought-provoking qualities. I found the notion that there must be something morally wrong (or mentally deficient) with women who choose not to have children really controversial — and outrageous!

I was more concerned by the turgid prose style and the tell-don’t-show tendencies of the author. But as a book with lots to discuss, I reckon this would be a great book group selection!

kim, I agree that this would make a fantastic book group choice.

I also agree that it raises many thought-provoking issues. It could have been an amazing book if the plot had been written differently, but there were too many plot holes for me. Why did she let people avoid being sent if they married? The discussion about who is valuable to society could have been investigated in far more depth, but at least it created a discussion.

She didn’t marry because of her value system. The only reason to marry was for love, not to prevent her from going to the Unit. This is essentially a novel about being true to yourself and not what society dictates.

I loved this book, but you haven’t offended me at all with your opinion. 🙂 I can see how all of those things you had problems with could be bothersome, but for some reason they just made the whole thing more interesting and thought-provoking for me. It’s been a while since I read it, so I don’t remember exactly why she hadn’t married, but I don’t think it’s out of the realm of possibility that some women wouldn’t be able to find partners or have children. Like you though, I would have chosen to marry rather than be shipped off to one of those facilities. I wanted to know how they allowed things to get that far, and then was really rooting for her to make the decision that I wanted at the end.

Alyce, It would have been more believable if they didn’t know the facility existed and were whisked away in the night – unaware that they could have avoided it all be being married. I can see why you loved it, but I need to have a more scientifically sound plot.

I haven’t read it but I don’t find it unbelievable that some people would rather have 50 years of freedom than a lifetime of being stuck with someone they didn’t love or like.

Beth, Sorry, not sure how I missed your comment. 🙁

I agree about the 50 years of freedom rather than living with someone they hate, but in this book they could still have that freedom and then on their 49th birthday they could marry someone (they have had a long warning so could hopefully find someone OK) and avoid certain death.


Any thoughts on if she actually escaped and returned or only imagined it?

Also it got creepy near the end when I started to realize that her novel was what I was reading (Right when she started talking about how the nurse didn’t have a birthmark and she didn’t receive the key then or there and the code was wrong, etc.) I guess that’s what made me suspect Dorrit would lie to me in a fantastically colored way, and thus, my theory that she didn’t escape at all.

Did she even want to escape? I think what she wanted was her secret.

Please share your thoughts with me!!



Interesting theory! I hadn’t thought about that. Unfortunately my copy has gone back to the library so I can’t check your points, but I really wish she hadn’t escaped and so I would love that to be true. I don’t understand how she could just give up her baby like that. If I was in her situation I would have been running as far as I could with my baby.

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