Saturday, 6 June 2015

Review: Delirium by Lauren Oliver


Publisher: HarperCollins
Publication Date: 3rd February 2011
Source: Bought (second-hand shop)
Genre: YA Dystopia
Enjoyment Rating: 5 stars
Technical Rating: 3 stars

Summary: In the world of Delirium, love is seen as a disease (amor deliria nervosa), and all citizens undergo a procedure at 18 to remove their capacity for this, the most dangerous emotion - one that kills you both when you have it and when you don't. Lena is about to turn 18 and is looking forward to her procedure - until she meets Alex and begins to uncover the truth.

In short: I adored this book and read it in a day. Writing this review, I've described many, many flaws in the book - but despite that, the writing is phenomenal so I really recommend you buy the book.

There's something that happens to me a lot when I read, especially with dystopia: I wish, I mentally beg the characters not to tamper with the system. Don't mess up your evaluation by coincidentally being reminded of your suspiciously dead mother. Don't ruin your life. I can forgive this with something like The Hunger Games, when life actually is shit and something has to be done. At the very least, find a way to overthrow the system that doesn't involve failing your evaluation. Don't do something stupid while being watched

This happened to Lena during her evaluation - the one she's prepared for her whole life - and I had this awful premonition of how things would go, of how she'd have to escape society and leave with the inevitable rebels, and that's what would happen to the plot. Thankfully, the author diverted this fate with a mysterious stampede of cows into the exam center necessitating rescheduling her evaluation. 

I'm a bit suspicious of the fact that the cure can only be given to those over 18. The explanation given in the book is that the brain isn't finished developing until then, but it does seem awfully convenient that this allows teenage love, which is what sells a lot of YA. I could accept this with freida from Only Ever Yours by Louise O' Neill as freida has been systematically abused from birth, but Lena has actually suffered relatively little trauma amongst other YA dystopian characters.

Lena is pretty pathetic and very standard YA. She literally describes herself as plain all the time, acts as if Alex makes her whole, and has a character arc identical to far too many other YA heroines (finally finding courage and leaving the society). Despite that, I'm fine reading through her perspective - I just don't like her as a person. 

Other flaws: It's not quite as disturbing as it could be - I feel like that could've been explored a lot more. There weren't many moments where I had the dawning horror I had in, say, The Giver as I realised the implications of something, although I still enjoyed Delirium more. There were plenty of chilling moments, but they weren't given the treatment they deserved, I feel. The characters are also idiots and I feel like the book underestimates teenagers - Lena really believes that Romeo and Juliet is beautiful (in contrast to the society, which says it's a cautionary tale). We're supposed to believe Lena when she says this, which is just stupid. Also, Lena doesn't know what poetry is at all - as in, she's never heard the word - which seems a bit unrealistic.

The juxtaposition of religion and science (the three founding pillars of the society are God, Science and Order) was quite interesting, although it was concerning to see that the whole society is Creationist. There was a bit of that dumb YA naming, i.e. being gay is called "Unnaturalism", which is pretty clunky.

There were some very annoying consistency errors. Near the start of the book, Lena, who is terrified of love and being infected, says "I love children". Not even as a secret: she says this out loud, and it's perfectly accepted. I can accept loving photography or something, maybe you can get away with that - but the whole point is that you're not allowed love children. That's what causes the "occasional" cases of detachment, where mothers sit on their child's windpipe or leave them to starve (viscerally disturbing detail right there). Another unrealistic thing is after Alex rescues Lena from a raid on a house party - she's been bitten badly by a police dog, so he takes of his top and ties it around her leg to stop the bleeding. Okay so far, if a bit provocative. Then they start making out right there in the shed, when the raid could still be going on for all they know. They could literally be executed for that offence, but suddenly they don't care. Cautious Lena must have had a complete personality transplant, no lobotomy required. Maybe there is some merit to the belief that amor deliria nervosa is a legitimate disease. 

When Lena needs to contact people, why doesn't she just text them? We see her texting Hana about something mundane late in the book, so why doesn't she text to warn her instead off running out into a raid to save her? I know the censors are watching, but it wouldn't be that hard to send coded messages. 

I found it weird that for a lot of the book, catching the disease is treated as a crime. If the society actually believed love was a disease, wouldn't they be kind to the sufferers and get them treated humanely? 

There wasn't really any convincing explanation for how deliria is contagious. I think the author could at least have made up some government "science" that gives a plausible mechanism for the disease. Oxytocin is raised when you love someone, right? So - just spitballing here - the government could tell people that too much oxytocin was toxic, and that's why amor deliria nervosa eventually causes death. 


I still loved the book, so let's look at some of the reasons for that.

First of all, the writing was exquisite. It's a long book, somewhere around 400 pages, but I was carried along easily by Oliver's gorgeous prose. I'm not sure what else I can say about it, just that she has a wonderful way with words.

I love Alex. I'm not going to examine him too closely in case that stops, but 10/10, I would. Thankfully, there was no love triangle like there was in Matched, an otherwise quite similar book. 

I love the start of chapters. They all start with a quote from some official document, like the government archive of banned words and phrases, excerpts from The Book of Shhh (short for Health and other similar words) and children's nursery rhymes. I particularly liked this one: 

Mama, Mama, help me get home

I'm out in the woods, I am out on my own
I found me a werewolf, a nasty old mutt
It showed me its teeth and went straight for my gut

Mama, Mama, help me get home

I'm out in the woods, I am out on my own
I was stopped by a vampire, a rotting old wreck
It showed me its fangs, and went straight for my neck

Mama, Mama, put me to bed

I won't make it home, I'm already half-dead
I met an Invalid, and fell for his art
He showed me his smile, and went straight for my heart.

Chilling, isn't it? Invalids is the name for the uncureds who live outside city boundaries. Interesting name for how it bucks the trends of YA - the rebels are usually physically stronger, and these ones probably are, but they're called sick. Freedom is sickness.

I did like Lena's relationship with Gracie, her little sister who everyone else thinks is mute. Hana, her best friend, was also cool to read about, although their friendship seems a bit unhealthy. 

I'm really annoyed at it being a series. I realised about ten minutes before I finished the book that I'd heard it was a trilogy, and that really pissed me off. Doubt I'll be able to get the other two from a second-hand shop.

The ending was a heartbreaking cliffhanger, but I cling to the hope that my favourite character will be okay by the end of Requiem. Thrilling conclusion.

Removed from the book, I can point out all these flaws. And while I could see them while reading and they did occasionally disrupt my reading experience, I still adored reading Delirium. 

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  1. This was the first book I ever received for review back when I first started blogging :) I suspect if I were to reread this, I would come up with a lot of the flaws that you did, but I remember thinking it was perfection in 2010, and I've loved Lauren's books ever since. It's too bad you didn't know this was a series going in, I would say it's not necessary to read the last two - although it is interesting to see Lena grow into her own.

  2. Nice sharing! Glad to read your post!

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