When I told my husband the premise of this book, his comment was “A Swedish book that deals with the horrors of socialized medicine?” I of course thought that was hilarious, but I digress. When I started seeing the reviews for this book all over the Internet, I was immediately intrigued by the story but felt that it might turn out to be a something of a derivative version of Never Let Me Go, which in some ways it was. In my opinion, you can only read this story and be truly horrified by it and its implications once, and so this book failed to be as gripping and moving for me the second time around. Yes, there were new things done with the storyline and new angles explored, but in my eyes, this book was probably not as groundbreaking and revelatory as the author had planned it to be.
I listened to this book on audio, and the narrator, Suzanne Toren, was a good choice for this book but not all that pleasant for me to listen to. Part of it I think had to do with the book itself. The sentences and dialogue were very clipped and almost terse, and Toren seemed to revel in this fact to the point that her narration almost sounded clinical. I guess that fits with the theme of the book, but I felt that the story combined with this particular narrator felt cold and sometimes wooden. The emotions of the characters didn’t have the necessary human warmth that enabled me to feel compassion for them, and as such, I felt the story stayed on the surface with me. The detachment I felt for the characters and their plights had everything to do with the way Holmqvist wrote them, and it was a surreal experience to be aware of the author attempting to move her audience and to feel myself remaining aloof. To a certain point, I remained unengaged the entire way through and was only invested for the sake of curiosity in how the story would eventually end.
The book used a lot of the same terminology that was used in Never Let Me Go, and that bothered me for a few reasons. These two books told basically the same story, one from the perspective of the young and one from the perspective of the old, and I ended up finding less to enjoy about this second version. It felt a little bit manipulative to tell you the truth, and all along as I was reading, I was very aware of the author behind the curtains pulling the strings to make the audience react. The book also had a very slow build-up and was frankly boring at times. It wasn’t until about the third quarter that I finally started becoming invested and wanting to know how it ended. As far as audiobooks go, this was by far the least compelling book I’ve listened to in a long time, and this was due in part to the choice of narrator as well as the plodding feeling of the writing.
I was also really angered by the ending and felt that it made no sense. I can’t really explore that too fully here for fear of spoilers, but to say it enraged me would be an understatement. I felt like all I had learned about Dorrit became forfeit and I really didn’t know her at all. This was maddening because I had spent so much time looking through her eyes only to have her do an about face that didn’t ring true to me. In my mind, I can think of quite a few alternate endings that I would have found preferable, even exciting, but it was not to be. I think Holmqvist intended this book to speak quietly and carry a big stick, but it just didn’t work for me at all. The conclusion lacked the punch I know it was supposed to deliver because it was so much of a rebuttal of what had gone previously. I felt cut off and adrift when I finished it and felt that the final chapter was extremely disingenuous.
I can’t say that I had a good time with this book, or that it left me thinking. All it really did was make me mad that I had spent so much time with it only to be left hanging in space. Since this book and Never Let Me Go tell a very similar story, I would advise the latter over the former for many reasons, but mostly because I felt that Ishiguro got the emotional resonance in his book just right, where this one just felt sterile and cold. Not a favorite by far.