Tuesday, 12 April 2011

35/111 - Delirium by Lauren Oliver

I bought this book pretty recently, and I only wanted it based on the premise. I don’t normally read young adult fiction, although this is somewhere in between YA and adult, in my opinion.

Set in Portland, Maine, at some point in the future, Lena is an ordinary 17-year-old girl. When she turns 18, she will be cured of a virulent disease, just like everyone else in society, so that she can live a productive life. The disease that they intend to cure her of is ‘amor deliria nervosa’, also known as ‘love’. Up until now, Lena has eagerly looked forward to being cured and getting rid of all her pesky emotions, which only lead to pain, suffering and chaos. That is, until she meets ‘golden-eyed’ Alex, a boy who will change her life forever…

I kind of liked this idea, because it’s dystopian and blah blah blah. It’s interesting to see the different angles people take on potentially horrible and inhumane versions of the future. Lena’s world is pretty sinister. The cure for love involves some kind of laser/cutting into the brain, presumably to sever whatever causes us to feel emotions. Love is classed as a disease, and all the classic signs of love – heat racing, excitement, loss of appetite, daydreaming – are all labelled as ‘symptoms’. Citizens are supposed to keep a vigilant eye on those around them to make sure they don’t exhibit signs of the disease, lest they be carted away for further treatment, or worse, forever cast out as ‘sympathisers’. In this world, humans don’t feel any strong emotions at all, and one of the potential side effects of the cure is extreme detachment. However most people go along with it in order to maintain an orderly society.

I often wonder where these kinds of stories emerge from. Are they coming from a place of anxiety about the chaotic nature of the world today? It’s difficult to think that anything like this could really take place, but a quick glance at human history will reveal many terrible episodes in our past that are just as awful as any of these potential situations.

I kind of liked this. It was easy to read, but pretty annoying in places. I think the elements which annoyed me the most were the parts which seemed most like a YA novel. Some of the characterisation was overly simplistic and predictable, and there was also something a bit ‘Twilight-y’ about the main character, Lena. I read the first in the Twilight series at uni, and it was dreadful. Lena reminded me a bit of the main character in that she’s a bit limp. In both novels there are constant references to how awkward the girl is, how plain and how clumsy. How she’s nothing special. How she never feels beautiful until she meets her boyfriend.

What the fuck?

Since when is that good female characterisation? And since when is that a good role model for teenage girls? Give them a bit of credit, please. One female character which springs to mind is the amazing Lyra from Philip Pullman’s trilogy, who is feisty and strong, and sometimes weak, but never with any reference to how beautiful she is or is not. I find it irritating and sloppy to have main characters that readers will obviously identify with, but who are so obviously bereft of complexity. Delirium is particularly bad in that Lena’s best friend, Hana, is described pretty much as a supermodel, which is just lazy and shallow writing. Granted, Lena is nowhere NEAR as bad as the girl from Twilight, but it was still disappointing.

Her actions are also pretty predictable, and she doesn’t seem that capable of thinking for herself. I’m also wary of any book which puts the idea of love and relationships on such a high pedestal – there’s more to life than these things, though in some of the current popular YA fiction, that doesn’t seem to be the case. I don’t remember what I wanted as a teenager, but a boyfriend was not at the top of the list.

It’s the first in a trilogy. I might give the next one a go, and see what she does with it. But I might not.

Next: Player One by Douglas Coupland

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