Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Delirium, Lauren Oliver

Love, who needs it? Sure, it feels good when you're with that special someone, but what about the pain when it ends? What about the fear that you're not good enough and that one day they'll realise it, or the jealousy that eats you up when he's late home for work? The soaring highs and the crashing lows are bad enough, but on top of that, love makes you do stupid things, put the beloved before yourself even at risk to yourself. Make no doubt about it: Love is a disease.

Or so Lena is led to believe, growing up at some unspecified point in the future. Luckily there is a cure against Love, or Amor Deliria Nervosa as it is now called. At eighteen, all US residents undergo surgery to remove all traces of the disease. They are paired up with suitable spouses, married out of college or high school, and have as many babies as the government tell them they can support. It seems to work all right. Even today many people argue that arranged marriages are as good as the kind based on being in love, with both parties having to work at the marriage and love coming as a result of this.

But wait. Did I mention love is a disease, and cured when a person reaches adulthood. Think about that for a moment. It's not just the being in love, but love, full stop. That's the love of parents to children - they bring them up dutifully and make sure they lack nothing they need, but there's no love. And without love, what is left? You're not even left with a love of things: hobbies, colour, beauty, music. There is no joy. There is no hatred or anger either; without love there is no emotion. But can you call yourself human? You might as well be one of the Cybermen of Doctor Who.

This is the world to which we are transported in Lauren Oliver's long-awaited dystopia, and what a bleak world it is. I've read a few dystopian teen novels recently, but they - Uglies and The Hunger Games are set in a very changed world. Uglies' is very polished and futuristic, while The Hunger Games has progressed technologically, and regressed in other ways, until it could be a high fantasy novel. But Delirium takes place in Portland, Maine, with real landmarks you can look up on Google Maps Street View. Although time has obviously passed, it feels as though this isn't so far away.

Delirium is the first part of a series - I think a trilogy - and all the way through myself wondering just how the story can end happily. Protagonist Lena is an ordinary teenager who falls in love just before she is due to undergo "the proceedure." After having unquestioningly accepted her fate, and the dangers of love, once she has experienced it for herself she finds herself wondering, desperate to defy the authorities and live happily ever after, and never mind the disease. But there is more at stake: it won't be enough for her to resist or survive the proceedure. The entire worldview of a nation has to change, and Lena is so very insignificant. I can't see how she and other resistors will realistically manage to persuade the whole country that all they've been brought up to believe in is wrong.

I found some of the culture in Delirium to be bizarre and contradictory. Love has been declared a disease, fair enough, but everything seems to revolve around keeping people uninfected. It's fair enough to succumb to the disease - that can be cured - but "sympathisers" are treated more like criminals, and punishment is harsh. It may appear to be a government concerned for its citizens, but it seems to me that there is an ulterior motive for keeping the people loveless. Even if it's the same old story: keeping people in their place and stopping them from thinking for themselves, I suspect more will be revealed in the sequels. And if this is a totalitarian regime, it doesn't have to make sense. You only have to look at somewhere like North Korea to see that.

After reading Oliver's Before I Fall, which was one of my big discoveries of last year, I've been eagerly awaiting Delirium, along with most other bloggers who read teen fiction. For me, though, "unputdownable" wasn't the word. (As far as I'm concerned "unputdownable" isn't a word!) Before I Fall was so fresh and original, I really did take it with me all around the house and got through it in a day. This time around I was able to read two other books at the same time as Delirium and it took me several days to finish. I thought the concept was fascinating, and that Oliver explored it well, with some beautiful writing, great characters and moments that came to life off the page. The plot itself, however, felt very familiar and I realised that the pattern of events, if not the details, mirrored the story outline of Uglies, at least in the first half. The second half is where the story really started to grab me and take on its own shape until its shock ending. Although other bloggers gave away no spoilers, I guessed from their reactions what might happen. That ending, however, ensures that the story from here on, and possibly even the story up to this point, isn't what you'd expect it to be, but something new and unexpected.

If you enjoyed this, you might like:

Uglies - Scott Westerfeld
The Hunger Games - Suzanne Collins
Never Let Me Go - Kazuo Ishiguro
Matched - Ally Condie

1 comment:

  1. Hey Katie!

    I love your blog and I am so happy about the work you are doing!It seems that nowadays, many people only experience in-depth poetry reading during their college years (if at all).

    But in this new post for the Ms. blog titled "A (Very Incomplete) Feminist Poetry Syllabus for 2011)", Paula Kamen proves this does not have to be the case.

    After discovering a posse of independent presses specializing in woman-centered poetry at the Association of Writers and Writing Programs conference in Washington, D.C., Kamen demands that we owe it to ourselves to update our poetry knowledge, beginning with some of the works she has recently found:

    I really think you and your readers will enjoy this "syllabus." Also, feel free to post your own suggestions on the Ms. blog!

    Happy reading,

    Rina Cervantes
    Public Relations
    Ms. Magazine


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