Review: DELIRIUM by Lauren Oliver
“Before scientists found the cure, people thought love was a good thing. They didn’t understand that once love – the deliria – blooms in your blood, there is no escaping its hold. Things are different now. Scientists are able to eradicate love, and the governments demands that all citizens receive the cure upon turning eighteen. Lena Holoway has always looked forward to the day when she’ll be cured. A life without love is a life without pain: safe, measured, predictable, and happy.
But with ninety-five days left until her treatment, Lena does the unthinkable: She falls in love.”
The Short of It:
Lauren Oliver’s second novel is stunning. A high-concept dystopia, but through the lens of her quiet pacing and luscious prose, somehow less dark, but just as profound and disturbing. It’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, but entwined with and eclipsed by Sleeping Beauty and Romeo and Juliet. Oliver gives us remarkably true characters, a languid, feel-it-on-your-skin final summer of innocence wrapped in a bewitchingly uncomplicated plot. More than that, she gives us every inch the experience of falling in love. This is the book you won’t want to put down, but it’s also the one you’ll find yourself slowing and stalling to try to draw the experience out and avoid the inevitable “The End”.
“Do not miss out on this experience!”
I was positively enchanted by this book. If I thought it was enough to motivate you, I’d leave it at that. That would be my review, and you would all run out and get it so you could experience that sense of enchantment for yourselves. I’d much prefer to just let the book work it’s magic on you. But, since I know the world doesn’t really work that way, I’ve been sitting with it for a couple of weeks now trying to figure out how to convey just how much I adored this book without either a) cheapening it or b) telling you too many details about what I loved about the book and therefore spoiling the surprise of it. Because I think one of the things I enjoyed most about Delirium was how much it managed to surprise me. The surprise came in many forms. It would be pretty simple to chalk it up to the dystopian factor. Yes, I happen to love dystopian fiction, I always have. Except, as a dystopian story the base plot itself, is actually pretty standard fare; but, layered on top of that base plot is so much poetry. The characters, the language, the descriptions, the little quiet moments, the subtle but game-changing twists and an ending that will pull the breath from your lungs. I dare you to not fall in love with this book.
Imagine a world where love is considered a disease. With a cure. Not only is the concept fresh, Oliver manages to draw on so many of our modern-day fears and assumptions to make this into an eerily plausible dystopia.
“It’s hard not to be afraid while I’m still uncured, though so far the deliria hasn’t touched me yet. Still, I worry. They say that in the old days, love drove people to madness. The deadliest of all deadly things: It kills you both when you have it and when you don’t.”
The roots of this particular dystopia are omnipresent. We as a species have always been pretty inventive at finding ways to not have to deal with pain. There is something appealing to the idea of knowing you’ll never have to hurt again. Never have to feel emotional pain. Never know the ache of longing or loneliness or regret. There are days I think, for each of us, when a cure sounds pretty freakin’ good. The cure technology may be different today, less permanent: drugs, alcohol, work, exercise, the internet – anything to keep from feeling…human enough to be hurt. Throw in a dash of our ever-increasing tendency to pathologize and you can see people buying into this, if even just a little bit.
The heart of the story though, really takes place amongst this contrast between the madness of being in love and the apathy and dissociation that these people experience after the procedure. This is another place where Oliver gets things dead right I think. If love is madness, the cure is the ultimate drug.
But, the dystopian story, at least for me, took a bit of a back-seat to the love story in this one. This is Lena’s story. It’s about pain, and loss, and family and perception, but overwhelmingly, it’s a book about first love. About the experience of it, the look of it, the meaning of it, the taste of it, the consequences of it, the language of it, and, yes – the madness of it. The book paces a little slowly at first, giving an appropriate distinction to the feeling of everything speeding up once Alex and Lena start to fall for one another. And also, I think, to the complacency that is all around Lena as the story starts. I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of the story. And where it broke out and surprised me, it did so in big, grand, earth-shattering ways.
Nearly all of Delirium’s character’s were intriguing in some way. Even those who have been “cured” and whose emotions have been stripped away manage to have a story to tell. Mostly I felt sorry for them, which is again a tribute to Oliver’s writing. These characters could have so easily come across as dead and flat, but they don’t. The book teems with a host of other minor characters that are worth getting to know for yourself. I have a feeling several will have larger roles to play as the series progresses.
As for the three main characters in this book, Lena, our heroine is so innocent at the beginning of this book, and I instantly loved her for it. This innocence (even in a 17 yr old) was so real, so right because of the closed and monitored environment in which she was raised. She’s also highly relatable because she’s not only awkward and damaged, she has this spark of intelligence and a deep instinct to question what she sees. Traits we might take for granted as simply human, but which in Lena’s world are a product of the unique circumstances that have occurred in her life before the story begins. She’s also admirable as a character who manages to take action, despite her overwhelming fears.
Alex and Hana manage to be remarkable for other reasons. Alex, as the love interest is pretty much the perfect guy. This would be annoying if he didn’t have such an interesting story to tell himself and if I didn’t come away feeling that Lena both needed and deserved a guy like that. And ok, admittedly I think I fell in love with him just a bit myself. There’s that part of me that’s still holding out for her Prince Charming and feeds on characters like Alex that make me think that maybe there really are a few good guys like that out there. But honestly, the story doesn’t have as much of an emotional payoff if you don’t fall in love with Alex just a bit. Hana, gorgeous and privileged is the best friend we all wish we had. She’s not perfect however, and that was what I liked most about her character. I’m very curious to see where she ends up in book two.
Can I just say bravo to Ms. Oliver for writing a series starter the way a series should be written. Yes, there are some huge things that happen at the end of the story that leave you wondering what happens next, but this story is also completely capable of standing on it’s own. I didn’t feel ripped off at the end. I didn’t feel like I had wasted hours reading a book just to get a rewarded with something akin to, “just kidding, the good stuff all happens in the next book…or the one after that”. I was left in tears at the perfection of the ending, satisfied, but still hungry for more. The second book in the series, Pandemonium will be out in 2012, with the final installment, Requiem due in 2013. You can bet I’ll be first in line to pick up the sequels to this one.
Cover Story: A
Can we say we love it, adore it, worship it, or would that be a bit clichéd in this case? Clichés be damned. I’m in love. This book goes on sale today, and I haven’t held the finished product in my hands (ahem, we won’t name the store I was at this morning that didn’t have it on display yet), but peeps – did you know that this is a cutaway cover? Yep, you get to peel away the blue to actually see the model underneath (OK MAJOR HINT BELOW). I really like the cover just as we’ve been seeing it (above), just giving us a glimpse of what might be hidden there. But, I was pleasantly surprised with the image of the cover model as well, while she’s not exactly how I had pictured Lena, I love that she’s not the typical Abercrombette either. And the whole idea of the cover itself, very much a finding the beauty hiding within motif. It’s pretty damn perfect.
Review Copy: Courtesy of Harper Teen (via NetGalley)
Genre: Young Adult, Dystopian
Hardcover: 448 pages
Publisher: Harper Collins (February 1, 2011)
*All Images courtesy of Harper Collins
Check out Lauren Oliver’s Delirium Playlist on the book’s Amazon page.