Monday, 31 January 2011
Review: Delirium by Lauren Oliver
Delirium is one of those books. Hot on the heels of last year's debut Before I Fall, Lauren Oliver's second novel imagines a future world where love is considered a disease - and, at the age of eighteen, all citizens are administered the cure. Seventeen year old heroine Lena Haloway awaits the day she'll be cured with anticipation: she's seen how love can destroy a person, and she craves the stability and contentment of life without it. Then she meets Alex.
Capturing perfectly the exhilarating highs and crashing lows of first love, Delirium follows Lena's journey as she slowly begins to question everything she thought she knew about happiness, passion and fulfilment. In a world where Romeo and Juliet is taught in schools as a warning rather than an example of great romantic writing, Lena learns that perhaps heartbreak isn't the worse thing that a person can experience.
While Delirium is set in a dystopian future, even those who aren't especially enamoured with science fiction should feel at ease with its relatively low-tech world-building. Aside the mechanics of the cure itself, Lauren Oliver focuses on the way everyday life has changed as a result of it. And it's not just romantic love that's been eradicated: parents are no longer expected to love their children, and siblings drift apart once cured. Family life is about duty, not affection. Most heartbreaking of all, nobody who has successfully undergone the procedure feels the accute sadness of their world. They're cured of that too. The head rules the heart unchallenged, and that's considered preferable to the alternative.
Comparisons with a certain other recent love-themed YA dystopia are inevitable, but for me Delirium is perhaps more reminiscent of Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale or George Orwell's 1984. Though the basic premise may seem pretty far-fetched at first glance, there are clear parallels to be drawn between Lena's world and our own - and that's what gives the story its immense impact.
As in Before I Fall, Lauren Oliver's storytelling speaks right to the heart. At times raw, Lena's voice is honest and authentic and sublime. Aside from the occasional awkward explanation of the way things work in her world, the narrative is utterly immersive. It's a book with a powerful message about love and freedom and what makes us human. If it doesn't make you cry a little... I don't believe you.
Delirium is a book to fall in love with. It'll get under your skin and find its way to your heart, if you let it. And you really should.
Out: February 3rd 2010, UK
Many thanks to Hodder & Stoughton for providing a review copy of this book.