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Delirium: Book review


Reviewed by's Anna Gowan

Lauren Oliver's second novel is set in a dystopian world where love is diagnosed as a disease. At age 18, citizens of Portland, Maine receive a 'cure' which permanently prevents subjects from feeling the effects of amor deliria nervosa, or love.  The operations leave the residents placid, calm and indifferent to love in all its forms.

At 17, Lena Haloway and her friend Hana are weeks away from the much-anticipated cure. In the coming weeks they will be psychologically analysed by a team of medical professionals who in turn arrange marriages for all lobotomised subjects. 

Lena has good reasons for wanting the operation - her mother, unable to live with life without love, committed suicide when Lena was a child. Being branded a sympathiser to love is an offense punishable by death, a fact Lena, the daughter of two sympathisers, is all too aware of.

But on the day of Lena's analysis, an incident occurs which defines the course of the final weeks leading to her operation.

I almost dismissed this book based on the question posed on the cover: what if love were a disease?  On first appearances the concept seemed wishy-washy - particularly in the context of teen fiction. 

But Oliver's second novel is excellent.  The pace, characterisation, description and dialogue is pitch-perfect.  While slow to begin, the plot kicks in at a crucial moment when Lena is woken from her stupor and sees Portland for what it really is.

Oliver's suburbia is a terrifying place, quiet and controlled, a place where family and cruelty go hand-in-hand. It's only as the book draws to a close that we get the full extent of Lena's prison.

However Oliver's direction begins to wane towards the final chapters of the book.  An improbable high-octane scene undermines the careful plotting of the rest of the book.  This is possibly due to the fact Delirium is the first novel in a planned trilogy, and a cliff-hanger ending was deemed necessary. 

It's a shame, but not a make or break - Delirium should become a firm fixture on every teen shelf. 

Delirium, by Lauren Oliver
Publisher: Hachette (Hodder and Stoughton)
RRP: $34.99
Available: Now