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One highly opinionated feminist YA nerd's twisted, snarky and informative journey through the genre's perils, pitfalls and sparkles.

Review: "Delirium" by Lauren Oliver.


Author: Lauren Oliver.

Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton.

Pages: 393.

Summary (taken from GoodReads): 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.

Cover impressions: While the dystopian YA craze has been heavily promoted and much talked about this year, it has arguably not met the extremely high expectations placed upon it by publishers and readers. Sales have been mixed with only a couple making it into the New York Times bestsellers list – “Matched” by Ally Condie, the recently released “Divergent” by Veronica Roth and Lauren Oliver’s “Delirium”, the first in a planned trilogy (as are the previously mentioned books.) It’s also worth noting that all three books were arguably the most heavily publicised dystopian YAs of the year. “Delirium” also comes with the added bonuses of being a new book from an author with much critical acclaim for her first book, “Before I Fall” (which I haven’t read) as well as a heavily promoted romantic angle, which has proven popular. For me, a dystopian novel rises and falls on its world building and the atmosphere the society within the novel evokes. I always associate a great dystopia with fear, paranoia, confusion, a constant sense of foreboding. Unfortunately, “Delirium” gave me none of this, but with the basic premise being such a bewildering one, it’s not hard to see why.

The front cover of the book asks “What if love were a disease?” And immediately, I ask questions. I can understand a dystopian society where emotions have been suppressed and declared dangerous. Lois Lowry executed that premise with particular skill in “The Giver.” However, the idea that of all the emotions in the world that could be considered the most dangerous to our world, the ones that cause the most damage and war, love is the worst is just confusing to me. What about greed? Anger? Fear? The book does little to expand upon the dangers of love, and the pseudo-science we are given does little to convince. Add to that the sheer number of plot holes and it was difficult to completely immerse oneself in this world. I started asking questions on the 2nd page. Why is the procedure to cure one of the symptoms of love ineffective to the under 18s? Why are uncured boys and girls kept separate but it’s okay for Lena, our incredibly passive and dull heroine, to associate with a cured man? Did nobody stop to think that raising children who are capable of love with parents who are not was a bad idea? If segregating the sexes is supposed to prevent early onset love then what about gay boys and girls? Why is it so easy for uncured citizens to pass themselves off as cured? Surely there would be more rigorous testing or such. These aren’t even all the questions I found myself asking throughout the course of the book.

The world itself is also very sloppily built and does not evoke the emotions of fear that Oliver intends it to. For a society that’s supposed to be rigorously guarded and watching its citizens at all times, it’s pathetically easy for characters to go to secret parties, to sneak into the forbidden areas, to let animals into government buildings. While Oliver does use an interesting narrative device in having each chapter start with an excerpt from the fictional literature of the book’s world, they do little to evoke what this society is really like. On top of all this, we’re never given any real history behind the USA’s decision to implement this ban on love. There’s no moment given to us where, for example, a civil war of sorts was declared between love and non love (anyone else hearing songs from “Hair” in their head?) to justify this change in power. With “1984”, Big Brother was always watching you. In “Delirium” things are decidedly more meh-ish. The best dystopians, although not all of them, take something from our world and take it to its worst conclusion, a cautionary tale of sorts. I could imagine the USA implementing an authoritarian, anti-woman society like “The Handmaid’s Tale”. I could imagine a mass government takeover founded in an extremely fringe religious movement. I can’t imagine love being declared a disease.

As expected with a book based on the idea of discovering one’s own awareness of love and the emotion itself in action, our heroine Lena has moments of extreme melodrama. While these moments would be understandable had her society and plight been more believable, here I was just left cold. None of the other characters really stood out in any way for me. The love interest Alex was particularly bland, once again another amalgam of every YA romance male love interest I’ve ever read; a bit of a jerk, constantly saving Lena, reciting love poetry, never going beyond surface detail with the romance. For a book that relies so heavily on the idea that true love is something so wonderful that it’s worth risking your life for, I never thought of Lena and Alex’s romance as anything more than teenage necking. Of course, it was also tough for me to sympathise with the pair when they wax lyrical about how romantic and beautiful a love story “Romeo & Juliet” is. Yes, this is another YA novel that completely misreads and oversimplifies the famous play, but it’s made even worse by the evil, love hating society decreeing it to be a cautionary tale, which it is, but of course Lena and Alex know the truth. While I give Oliver credit for not completely following the well worn path of YA romance, for the most part their relationship is everything one would expect from such a book.

Oliver’s real strength lies in her prose. It’s well structured and very purposeful. I got the feeling that, had Oliver had a stronger story and characters, this book would have been much more effective. As it is, “Delirium” is a long, confusing and often very dull read. I don’t think the premise is a completely terrible one but it’s one that requires very deep analysis and a meticulously thought out society to build upon it. Strong prose will only go so far when it’s trying to keep sloppy world building, a tough premise and weak characters afloat. In the end, “Delirium” left me with far too many questions and not enough satisfaction.


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