Monday, 21 March 2011
Review: Delirium by Lauren Oliver
Released: February 3rd, 2011
Grade rating: A
There was a time when love was the most important thing in the world. People would go to the end of the earth to find it. They would tell lies for it. Even kill for it. Then, at last, they found the cure. Now, everything is different. Scientists are able to eradicate love, and the government demands that all citizens receive the cure upon turning eighteen. Lena Haloway 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 then, with only ninety-five days left until her treatment, Lena does the unthinkable.
I read through the majority of Delirium while simultaneously asking myself if there was anything more beautiful than Lauren Oliver's words. For the remaining section, I was torn between looking away and continuing on through hazy eyes filled with heartbroken tears. Once again this lady has effortlessly created sentences that beg to be read more than once, that demand attention and don't leave you alone until you give them everything you've got. It's a writing talent, a gift few possess, but one that Oliver has in copious amounts.
In the world of Delirium, love is slowly being eradicated. When people reach 18, they're given an invasive procedure to cure them of their amor deliria nervosa - love or, as they think of it, a disease. Their ability to feel deeply for anyone is removed, they're then matched with someone and live a happy, loveless life. And they think this is better. They strongly believe that this is actually better than feeling your heart skip a beat in anticipation of seeing that one person, or feeling that genuine flash of love for a best friend, a parent, or even a pet. They just exist, not remembering what it was like to ever feel passion or pain or heartbreak. To them, love is a sickness, an illness. A disease of the highest order. And it must be stopped.
For Lena Haloway, this way of thinking is all she knows. She's an orphan living with her aunt and uncle, and is counting down the days until her procedure cures her, leaving her free of the temptation to love, and taking care of the amor deliria nervosa that could, at any moment, pollute her mind. For Lena and her best friend Hana, this is all fine. It's the way of life, it's expected and it's right. Then with only 95 days left until Lena's procedure, she meets Alex. Alex, the boy with golden brown hair like autumn leaves, the boy with eyes that shine and a touch that awakens her whole being. Alex, the boy responsible for Lena opening her eyes and realising that no, love isn't a disease and, no, it doesn't require a cure. The boy who infects her, consumes her, with amor deliria nervosa. What follows is a journey, like a hike up a neverending mountain. It's treacherous and unsafe, but also exhilirating and full of freedom. There's danger around every corner; a misstep here, a fall there. But it's all worth it. Isn't it?
Delirium has made me think so much that I don't know how I'll be able to switch off. I find the world Oliver created to be absolutely terrifying because, without the ability to love and be loved, what do we, as a society, have left? If there's no deep-set, unwavering love for a mother and a father who've taken care of you for your whole life, or a pulse-pounding, aching love for a partner, why is life worth living? For me, it wouldn't be. If I lived in this version of Portland, where men patrolled daily looking for sympathisers and a fence kept me inside the city, I wouldn't survive. I'm hoping I'd try, but facing the prospect of losing my essence, my feelings, I'd crumble. How Lena does it is a mystery to me, but somehow she does.
While Delirium is brilliant and thought-provoking, it still left me with some questions, and a desire for stronger world building. I can't help but think other dystopian novels have done that side of things better but, unlike Delirium, they can end up lacking in the character department. If it came down to choosing between an exceptional futuristic society or strong protagonists that render me speechless, I'd choose the latter every time. I want to be sucked into their lives and daily routines, and I want to feel what they feel. So, although Oliver didn't 100% convince me with Lena's society, she did make me love her characters. I fell for them. Hard. Another thing that has also lodged itself into my thoughts is the matching process that follows the procedure. The book skims over what would happen for same-sex relationships, and instead focuses on boy/girl matches. What I want to know is what would happen to, say, a gay boy? Would he be left without a match? Would he just live his life alone, with no love and no companion? It's an apsect of the narrative that I hope will be explored in future books in the series, and one that I feel deserves to be addressed.
Delirium is a fantastic piece of literature. Anyone who ever mouths off about how YA doesn't earn its place in modern fiction should read this, and then promptly eat their words. It's proof that immense talent exists within the genre, and that stories like this have the ability to make readers lose themselves in a concept as alien to us as the notion of loving freely is to Lena. It's utterly devastating and hopeful at the same time, not unlike Oliver's debut novel, Before I Fall. For me, Lauren Oliver can do no wrong. As long as she keeps writing with the same haunting, poetic prose, I will keep reading. I foresee myself buying her books for a very, very long time to come.