The International Writers Magazine: YA Book Review
Delirium by Lauren Oliver
Publisher Hodder & Stoughton Ltd
Sam Hawksmoor review
Lauren Oliver is on a journey through a well trodden future – where love and feelings are illegal. Writers such as Philip K Dick, Kurt Vonnegut and even Jean Luc Goddard were thinking about totalitarian worlds were passion and poetry were forbidden for the sake of peace and humanity way back in fifties and sixties. George Orwell also used sex and love as a rebellion against Dictatorship in ‘1984’. There is also the movie Equilibrium where Christian Bale’s job is to kill anyone who feels anything and eradicate art or poetry that might inspire ‘rebellion’.
In Delirium we live in a future United States where love is a disease in need of a cure – which sounds a lot like the Taliban took over and may yet happen of course. Reading Delirium the tone and feel of the text is a lot like the beginning of the amazing ‘Forest of Hands and Teeth’ but this is no zombie novel. It is a very real world where a seventeen-year-old girl Lena is just 95 days away from the ‘cure’ and to be honest she can’t wait. First she has to be evaluated (a very tense time where they test your psychological state and wellbeing and then depending on your score, match you with a boy with whom you will spend the rest of your life in a loveless marriage) A bit like a face to face e-harmony moment and you get just five choices of who they think you are most compatible with.
Lena is nervous, not because, as you would expect in this kind of novel, she wants to rebel and experience love, but because she so totally believes in this ‘cure’. Lena, along with her best friend and running partner the beautiful, Hana, are on the countdown to ‘freedom’ from pain. The cure is a surgical procedure that will remove all longing – give them the emotional range of a Stepford Wife. (In Africa they use female circumcision to achieve a similar goal).
Superficially, it might seem attractive to any heartbroken teen to have a cure that will stop the pain. The same idea was also used in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind where you can have memories of your last relationship erased. But what would it be like to live in a society where boys and girls at the age of 18 are psychologically neutered? What is there to live for if there isn’t love? Where do you go if you don’t want the procedure? Life in Maine seems to go on to be sure, but unlike Ms Oliver, I am not absolutely convinced it would be so normal, or that people would be motivated to carry on. This is just an observation mind. It seems to be a life without hope and anticipation and that's kind of hard to live with.
There are the wilds beyond the border (electrified fences keep people in) and the beyond that the bombed out ruins of towns and cities that would not succumb to this loveless dictat. America is safe (at peace) but beyond its borders all is chaos and pain because they allow ‘passion’ to rule.
It’s not all peace in Portland, Maine where Lena lives with her aunt and uncle and their two kids. (Grace and Jenny. Grace is mute – rebelling in her own way about what life has dealt her). If you rebel in any way, listen to unauthorised music or read a banned love poem, the regulators and enforcers will hunt you down, club you unconscious or even kill you or throw you in jail and throw away the key. (So yes, the Taliban is running Maine). This is not the kind of America you’d like to live in. Romeo and Juliet is a compulsory read as a warning to just what can go wrong if you stray from the norm.
Why is Lena so keen to be ‘cured’? Look no further than her mother who committed suicide rather than submit to the cure. She suffered so much, they had to treat her three times to try to ‘cure’ her of love, but it failed. Lena fears that she has inherited the ‘disease’ from her mother and does not want that much pain.
That is until she meets Alex, part time student, security guard, not yet matched. Alex is cured, so should be ‘safe’, but Alex has a secret and clearly likes her.
What is this terrible feeling she has for this golden boy with a killer smile. It can’t be? But it is. A heart doesn't lie.
Keeping secrets in a totalitarian society is tough and every day she gets one closer to the cure. Delirium is an intense portrait of a militaristic Amish America – a love story to savour with characters you can beleive in.
@ Sam Hawksmoor – Feb 6th 2011
Sam Hawksmoor’s novel ‘The Repossession’ coming from Hodder Childrens books 2012.