Emma Rosloff's Reviews > Delirium

Delirium by Lauren Oliver
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's review
Mar 26, 2012

it was ok
bookshelves: ya-dystopian
Read in March, 2012

Lauren Oliver's prose is beautiful, full of metaphors to stir the senses, and keen observations about the tiniest of nuances; those flitting moments that make up life.

It's a pity that such lovely writing is lost on the paper thin plot of "Delirium". I can see why the premise was so intoxicating -- a world where love is a disease. Terrifying indeed.

Except when that place is Portland, Maine, a tiny corner of the world that isn't special or super interesting, and the entire world outside of it is conveniently hidden behind an electric barb-wire fence, along with any explanation as to why the fence and Lena's love-phobic society are there in the first place.

I hate that. When a writer thinks that lets them off the hook. When it's suddenly ok to leave the backstory utterly in the dark, to doctor up a warped society purely for shock value, just to see how it plays. I understand that the YA genre doesn't demand total backstory clarity, and that's fine. You're allowed to paint in broader strokes, but you've got to give us something.

This book lacks a crucial element -- the credible threat. It has absolutely no antagonist. Every person that stands in Lena's way, every harrowing event she endures -- those are only symptoms, even the Wilds are only a symptom. All stemming from a nationwide campaign to systematically lobotomize 'love' that is never justified, beyond token 'excerpts' that start each chapter, reinforcing the notion that love is bad (and not doing much else), taken from made-up books and documents on the subject of 'amor deliria nervosa'. As if giving the 'disease' a fancy Latin name and citing fictional reference material will save her from the responsibility of giving us a credible reason to be on board with her concept.

(SPOILERS beyond this point)

Once or twice, there was something fleeting in the prose... a chilling sense of how dull life can become if you let it. But without a reason to explain what had driven humans to such extremes, the story's generic 'villains' are nothing but cliches cut out of cardboard. What's worse, they are not a consistent entity, and though the author insists that the regulators and their ilk are 'cured', it does not absolve them of cruelty, or a tendency toward senseless violence... at least, when it's dramatically appropriate. This only serves to weaken her concept further. Her villains are conveniently evil.

GROAN. I couldn't stand that. One minute they're clubbing teenagers to death for innocent touching, the next they're conveniently keeping Lena's mother alive in a cell, even after she's proven that she's a resister and a lost cause (why not kill her?). When they catch Lena consorting with Alex, and determine that she has the dreaded deliria, they let her stay in her own house (albeit tied to her bed) and interact with her family. They don't throw her in a solitary cell, as they have every right to do, and they don't give her the cure immediately. They wait two whole days, giving her ample time to escape. It makes no sense that they wouldn't just bump whatever normal person was due for a cure, and slap Lena on the table while she's unconscious and administer it right there.

And then when Lena and Alex make their mad dash to freedom, the bullets only fly when it seems like it will ratchet up the tension, but it's never clear whether the men chasing them want to take them alive or want to shoot them on sight, because it's NEVER CLEAR what exactly the deliria means to these people. Do they think it's contagious? If I were this nebulous dystopian government I would stress that point, and I would make a big show any time I caught a defector. I wouldn't pretend that the Invalids in the Wilds didn't exist. That's stupid. I would play up that they exist, and that they're savages. The people already seem to think this, but it would only make the government stronger to reinforce the notion, instead of tepidly skirting around it.

And ultimately, I wouldn't want ANYONE to escape alive. I'd rather kill them then let them go free, in the event that I couldn't capture them. And I would only capture them to kill them publicly, or to condemn and then cure them. The whole idea behind 'the Crypts' makes no sense to me (particularly the graveyard in the middle, why bury prisoners? Why give them the honor?). Why keep the defective alive? Isn't the aim for a pure society? Wouldn't they take pity on them and think death a mercy, in keeping with their philosophy? I guess I could see why they'd keep the resistance alive, as bargaining chips. But that's it. Arbitrary cruelty does NOT a Dystopia make.

Lena escapes alive, even with a hundred men (presumably carrying guns), several squad cars and a full blown helicopter at her back. Alex just stands at the bottom of the fence, 'sacrificing' himself to ensure she makes it over. It makes no sense. With the bright lights fixed on them and the men rushing them, why isn't Lena shot several times as she's scrabbling over the barbed-wire? It's a miracle she isn't shot before that. And why on Earth doesn't Alex try and make the climb? They want BOTH of them... even if Alex put his hands up to surrender, they would still shoot at Lena. And even when she got over the fence, a helicopter was still on her tail. How does making it over suddenly grant her immunity from being shot? And how is there enough time for her and Alex to share a final moment? Alex would be dead, pierced by bullets, even before they swarm over him. And Lena would be pursued, and shot at from the helicopter. End of story.

Don't even get me started on how predictable her plot was, and how irritating it was to wait for Lena to catch up and make revelations about her society that were glaringly apparent from the start. I get it, she's supposed to be the anti-thesis, but without that credible threat, it's like she's made of cardboard, too. A cardboard cut-out is a cheap substitute for the real thing, and a pitiful protagonist at that.

The closest correlate I can find to this story is 1984. Except in 1984, the control is absolute -- Orwell goes ALL the way, and we see the other side, we see the greedy politicians and their machinations, warped by their unprecedented power, ready to turn lies into truth as it serves them. And their goal is clear -- every person must be indoctrinated at all costs. While Orwell takes it to the extreme, it echoes real life enough to be terrifying; a true cautionary tale, and things like love, loyalty and family fall by the wayside as a side affect to the total invasion of privacy. That is ultimately much more chilling than Oliver's half-baked concept of a society cured of 'love'.

This book left me frustrated and a little disillusioned. Yes, the writing is beautiful, the love story passable, but how can it have received so many glowing reviews? The themes are powerful, sure, but they're executed poorly; I only breached the surface of the issues I took with the validity of her plot. Is this what passes for speculative fiction these days? In most cases, I'm willing to accept that we're all different; that sometimes a story misses the mark with me. But not this one. In a lot of ways, this story was just bad. Plain and simple.
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message 1: by R. A. (new) - added it

R. A. Desilets Emma, you should seriously get an examiner page or something and get paid for your reviews, they are so insightful.

:P If you want a referral link let me know. I never make that much money doing it (only like $5 total), but hey, it's cash ^_^

Emma Rosloff Thanks Rachael! I really enjoy writing reviews... it's nice to know somebody reads them. I can never tell with Good Reads... it's not very clear what happens to a review once you've written it, except that you're immediate GR friends can see it. Given that I'm trying to write in this genre (YA Dystopian in particular), I like to be up to date on what's out there, what's new and considered popular or even representative of the genre (I know you do the same thing -- you read a ton). It'd be neat to get paid, even the tiniest it, and even more than that, to feel like someone benefited from or enjoyed my analysis. To get a little exposure.

So yeah, hit me up with that link. Thanks again!

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