Have you ever thought, for the slightest second, have you wished even, that you could be cured of love and live happily without it? For Lena, that is her world. Reminiscent of Matched by Ally Condie, Delirium is a futuristic world where love is outlawed. Lena lives in a future where love is a mental disorder. Amor deliria nervosa. And when people turn eighteen, they get cured once and for all and they never get infected again. Lena counts down the days to get cured. She longs for her life to start. For happiness. And then, as the count down progresses, she does a thing she never thought she was capable of. She falls in love!
Oliver is a wordsmith of poetic imagery and emotion. Her carefully crafted chapters are a breeze to sweep by, but also impactful and suspenseful that it is almost unbearable to put down. Every chapter begins with a passage which is as artfully crafted as the story and the world it is set on. The characters take a life of their own. The story feels like a tragedy waiting to happen. The protagonists, the limelight of a Romeo and Juliet incarnation of loss and love of the modern times.
Lena starts off as the advocate for the cure and as eager as any teenager her age is to get treated. But for the revolution to start, it has to start inside, in the mind. For the revolution to start inside someone or something has to challenge your beliefs. That’s what happens when Lena meets Alex. She starts to question the world she has been born and raised into. For the brain to awake and see clearly, something has to spring it and alarm it. Alex is the perfect vessel of change. However, he not only cultivates the revolution in Lena’s spirit, but also becomes the first love, the first crush. The one who opens your eyes into a world of feelings and foreign sensations.
The prose is full of similes and metaphors, imagery and vivid pictures it reads like a poem. Written in the first person, it’s self reflective, self-absorbed. The reader is let in on a seamless stream of consciousness narrative where they take the chance to really see what goes on inside the brain of this confused girl, how it thinks, associates and disassociates and the important thought processes that lead to change.
The plot is simple, but not uneventful; that’s for sure. For its synopsis you would think it would be very futuristic and dystopian. On the contrary, it is as realistic as any of the classics. It is about ordinary people in extraordinary conditions. It runs smoothly moment by moment, second by second, as the change and the shift in focus take place, take shape and form. Every chapter leaves you wanting more. It’s never enough. The reader is made to want, need even, another peak (because it feels voyeuristic, as if you’re a pipping-Tom in someone’s else life) into a moment of their time. That takes skill and lots of brains to master as a writer.
Something that made me think about the concept however, is the use of the word love. You’d think if love was outlawed the verb and noun would also be rejected and banned from use. Yet Lena loves running, loves summer. Loves things. So wouldn’t loving objects be risky? If you still loved things what could stop you from loving people?
On a more personal note, I was reading some other reviews and read about the book being all anti-feminist because it needs a man, Alex, to bring about the sense of fulfilment in the female protagonist, Lena. I want to disagree to the ends of the Earth with that. Opposite-sex relations are constricted with power politics. It’s inevitable. But let’s not forget that love is the same no matter who you are. It just so happens that the protagonist here is a young woman who falls for a guy, who happens to awaken her senses and her awareness of the world. When you fall in love in real life, you don’t care about such dynamics between the sexes. You don’t think about them. This happens in academic researches. When you fall in love you are you. You’re not a woman, not a man. You’re yourself. I think the book would read the same if Lena was a male character or if Alex was female and the relationship was a same-sex one. We’ve learnt to throw feminism into every literature where there is a woman protagonist and see if it is fit for the feminist, girl-power canon. Let’s just remember that sometimes you are a woman who is a female who needs saving and sometimes you’re a woman who is female and saves others. Nothing is black and white. Besides no girl actually attempts to kill herself because she was damped for her “own good” (Twilight hint).
If you want something to bite down to your core and bring about thoughts and scepticism about what it means to live without love, then give this book a definite read. And then maybe you’ll want to read the second in the trilogy as bad as I want to right now.