Thursday, 21 March 2013

Requiem, by Lauren Oliver

Requiem is the much-anticipated third and final installment of Lauren Oliver’s entrancing series about a world in which love is considered to be disease. Its beautiful blue cover with silver writing is highly drool-worthy and the story inside lives up to expectation as Oliver’s characters grab you by the shirt collar and pull you into their world to fight for what they believe in.

Amor Deliria Nervosa was introduced to us in book one, Delirium – love, a disease that leads, among other things, to compromised reasoning skills and a distortion of reality. In the totalitarian world in which Lena and her best friend Hana live, love is something to be feared, to be trodden down and exterminated and so, at the age of 18, everyone undergoes The Cure, brain surgery that renders a person unable to love, that brings a fog over their emotions but purportedly brings clear thinking and rationality. It is only months until Lena will undergo The Cure, but then, just as her future is being mapped out for her, the worst thing happens: she contracts the Deliria. Perhaps, though, it’s not the worst thing? After meeting Alex, the source of her infection, Lena is led to question all that she has been taught and all that she has believed until now.

As Requiem opens, Lena has been living in the Wilds for upwards of six months – the unpoliced land outside the cities, a wild and ruined place where survival must be fought for on a day-to-day basis. She is a part of the resistance, fighting for freedom, and has found strengths she never knew she had, but still has a million questions. She has a tentative happiness here and has faith in her new beliefs and her new world, but is also discovering that much of what the City said about the Deliria is true. Love is complicated beyond belief – and can you love more than person at a time? Just as she finds a way to accept the loss of Alex and begins to make new connections, he steps back into her life and throws her heart into turmoil all over again.

Meanwhile, Hana has had The Cure and is counting down the days to her wedding to the most powerful man in Portland. It’s better, she feels, than it was before – she can keep the past at arm’s length, doesn’t have to feel the guilt, the jealousy and the multitude of other confusing synaptic pulses she had before. But as the past begins to slip back into her present, Hana finds herself questioning everything all over again. Is it her fault that Lena’s family is starving and ostracized? Is The Cure working properly on her? And who, really, is the man she’s got to marry?

Adrenalised and emotionally-packed, Lena and Hana’s alternating storylines take us into their minds and their worlds. Lena’s exploits for the resistance boil up into a dramatic conclusion, bringing her home to where her fight for the freedom to choose all began. Lauren Oliver’s final few paragraphs bring this to the foreground loud and clear, summing up the message behind all three books in a wonderfully succinct and emotionally cathartic manner:

Take down the walls. Otherwise you must live closely, in fear, building barricades against the unknown, saying prayers against the darkness, speaking verse of terror and tightness. Otherwise you might never know hell, but you will not know heaven, either. You will not know fresh air and flying.” (pg. 342)

Storywise, she has left the ending open – not really open to interpretation, but open enough for there to be more to the story. Some readers may prefer to have had every last detail wrapped up and ticked off (not that there are loose ends, it’s simply that there isn’t an "and they got married and lived happily ever after" conclusion), but I like the way it ends, it feels realistic, it fells like, well, the world is their oyster and they can choose what they do with it, where to go, who to be. Which is, of course, the point.

Requiem is a powerful and compelling conclusion to Oliver’s – and Hana and Lena’s – story that makes me want to go back to the beginning and read the whole series over again. Satisfyingly enjoyable, and great escapism. Perhaps teen readers out there could take it up a notch and try Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale next.

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