"They say that the cure for love will make me happy and safe forever. And I've always believed them. Until now. Now everything has changed. Now, I'd rather be infected with love for the tiniest sliver of a second than live a hundred years suffocated by a lie. There was a time when love was the most important thing in the world. People would go to the end of the earth to find it. They would tell lies for it. Even kill for it. Then, at last, they found the cure."
In the future world of Delirium, love has been defined as a disease. When children turn 18, they are required to undergo a procedure that renders them immune to the 'delirium' before being matched with a member of the opposite sex in order to have children and contribute to society. Lena is 17 and eagerly counting down the days to her procedure, frightened of the disease that caused her mother to commit suicide when Lena was still a child. Oliver is adept at creating her world, she begins each chapter with a piece of documentation, an extract from the Safety, Health and Happiness Handbook or a poem from a banned collection. Oliver manages to write what is essentially a love story without making it sentimental and also managing to cover other bases and exploring family, friendship, loyalty, honesty and science amongst other themes. I didn't fall for it, maybe I've just read too many dystopian YA novels, maybe because I did find Lena a little uninspiring or maybe because I found it rather dragged in the first half, but Oliver's writing is undeniably beautiful. I will definitely be reading both the sequel to Delirium and her other novel, Before I Fall, as I think I would really enjoy her writing in a less saturated genre.
First Line: 'It has been sixty-four years since the president and the Consortium identified love as a disease, and forty-three since the scientists perfected a cure.'
Why I read it: I saw it in Oxfam Books and had heard it was a good entry into the post-apocalyptic YA canon.
Who I would recommend it to: Post-apocalyptic fans who enjoy solid world building. Fans of Divergent by Veronica Roth or Matched by Ally Condie
At the beginning of Delirium, Lena almost exactly what her society wants her to be like. She is eagerly counting down the days until she is able to have the procedure to forever cure her of amor deliria nervosa, or love. Love has been classified as a dangerous disease due to its ability to make people act emotionally and unpredictably. Whilst Lena is plagued by memories of who mother who the cure did not work on and who ended up committing suicide and feels as though Romeo & Juliet is beautiful instead of frightening, ultimately she is on board - she wants to not to have to worry about her mother and to have choices made for her so she doesn't have to do it herself. Of course, Lena proceeding to have the cure administered and hearing about her life as an emotionless zombie would not make for a compelling novel and months before her procedure, Lena meets Alex who throws her previously held thoughts about love and life into disarray. Lena learns that things she thought were only myths are real and that she has not been told the whole truth about her mother.
The story is quite slow to get started and Oliver spends quite a lot of time building up the society that Lena lives in with the raids and checks and constant monitoring and rigid expectations. Whilst the world building is important, I could have done with slightly less preamble as I did lose interest for fifty pages or so. I would have also liked more exploration of how it became the status quo as we see evidence of plenty of people who oppose the procedure and a significant number of teenagers who rebel against the strict rule before submitting to the procedure. I would have enjoyed more detail about how the society manages to convince these teenagers to submit to the procedure calmly. Speaking of submission, I did find Lena rather frustrating at times. I often find main characters too aggressive, violent or blunt (I liked but didn't love Katniss and Divergent's Tris for example) but even I found Lena to be weak and fragile for a significant section of the story. She does develop and become braver but she is rather insipid and whiny for quite a long time. I really loved her best friend, Hana, though as well as Alex and to be honest I would probably have preferred to have Hana as a main character and to have the romance between her and Alex. I would love to read a spin-off about just Hana, with Lena as the best friend.
The novel does kick up a gear in the second half though and gets very tense towards the end, the ending is a huge cliffhanger but the second novel, Pandemonium has now been released, and I would recommend having it close to hand. There is also a really powerful sequence when Alex and Lena visit a sinister prison where things don't go to plan and big secrets are revealed. I'm not sure any of the 'twists' were super surprising, I saw the main ones coming, but they were satisfying and enjoyable anyway. Whilst I have some queries with Oliver's pacing, her writing itself is beautiful. I would actually really love to read a novel written for adults, or something less action packed and more contemplative as her descriptions are sometimes truly lovely. I will definitely be checking out Before I Fall, her previous novel.
This is a worthwhile addition to the dystopian society genre, and better than many that I have read. Oliver is a talented and evocative writer but Delirium is a little awkwardly paced at times and her main character could have done with a bit more strength and backbone. The romance is largely well done, with nothing too cheesy or ridiculous in there although there are your grand romantic gestures at a few points throughout the story. I am interested to see what happens next although I am concerned about the hints that the focus will be right back on Lena with less Alex and sadly, less Hana.