Delirium (by Lauren Oliver)

4 08 2011

The cat was prepared to love this book. The cat expected to love this book! But much like in Lena’s world, the love’s gone away. And now, the cat can only keep on repeating, hoping to somehow break the spell: ‘Please don’t be a one-trick pony, please don’t be a one-trick pony, please don’t be a one-trick pony’. Delirium wants to be dystopian romance – yes that bandwagon again. Only, it fails on both the dystopian and the romance part of the genre description.

First things first, the positive: Lauren Oliver can still write. The almost 400-page story ebbs along effortlessly mainly because of her talent for writing beautifully. Yes, she still knows how to construe a sentence; she still knows which linguistic buttons to push to grip the reader by the throat and to urge him/her on to read what happens to Lena, the protagonist of this story.

Which brings the cat to the negative: the dystopia and the romance.

For a dystopian novel to work at least a little bit on a believable intellectual level, there has to be a certain amount of world-building. However, with the exception of being told that Amor Deliria Nervosa (a.k.a. Love) is a disease, which caused The Government to look for a Cure and to come up with just that, and hence populating the country with Thoughtless & Loveless Automatons instead of Lovesick Thinking Citizens, there’s very little in the way of believable evidence of this Loveless World being bad to the bone. OK, there’s the occasional raid, and there are the Crypts (prison for non-believers – and worse – in the Cure).

Right, this Cure-thing. This is basically a lobotomy cutting out the part of the brain where the Love Gene is wreaking havoc (wouldn’t it cut out other emotions as well? Like hate, lust or any other emotions that might possibly somehow, maybe just even from afar, be related to love? Apparently not, judging from the passion with which the regulators raid the houses.  Moreover, it seems to be fairly easy for non-Cured people (the under-18s) to go to illegal parties, to download forbidden music, to basically behave like any teenager would do, regardless of the type of world they lived in. And OK, you will argue that Delirium is only the first part of a trilogy and that there’s still plenty of time to elaborate on this Big Bad Loveless World (which the cat somehow doubts, judging from the way this first book ended). OK, the cat is willing to give Lauren Oliver the benefit of the doubt here… were it not for the fact that bits and pieces of the entire story are so so so reminiscent of other dystopian teenage romance stories (Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies series[1], Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games trilogy…). OK, the cat is even willing to oversee this slight err.. lack of inspiration, but then please deliver on the romance part. Considering Lauren Oliver is a bit of word artist, that she shouldn’t be too hard to do.

She doesn’t. And again, the cat blames a lack of inspiration, or rather a lack of inspired passion to create believable and interesting characters. This is where Before I Fall just blew the cat away (remember this was a debut novel!). Before I Fall had a great protagonist in Sam. Great, not as is likeable (not really necessary), but as in greatly developed, well-rounded, believable with all her perks and flaws! In Delirium, the cat never believed the character, or rather the cat never believed how a plain Jane character like Lena could so quickly and so easily do a 180 about the whole transgressing boundaries part. Or Hana’s sudden turnaround for that matter, didn’t believe that one either. It would have made a lot more sense for Hana to have been a more integral part of the story. Oliver sketches her one way (good, great, Hana’s a character with a lot of potential), but then she (Hana as well as Lauren Oliver) just chickens out and there’s no real rationale for why she would chicken out.

Then there’s Lena. Lena is dull. There. The cat said it. She describes herself as such as well, so it’s not like the cat is insulting anyone here. She lives her life in fear, in fear of her past, in fear of life. She is not a hero(ine)-type protagonist. Not necessary to have a great character, I hear you think – remember Harry Potter? Yes, but Harry Potter worked on so many other levels, besides the reluctant hero-level. Delirium doesn’t. At least in Before I Fall, Sam went through a whole process to become who she really was. A storyline in which the hero/heroine finds out that their perfect world isn’t so perfect can only be believable to the reader when the reader is there along with the protagonist to go through the process of finding out as well. Lena’s “process” is much like her first evaluation in the book: interrupted and hence invalid. We’re supposed to believe she changes because of the big love interest in the book, Alex. We’re supposed to believe that way (way) back in her mind there has always been this little voice that whispered transgressive things into her ears – grey anyone?  We’re supposed to believe that she’s the unlikely hero in this tale. We’re supposed to believe that Alex fell in love with her when he saw her running, because he could just see how awake and happy she appeared to be, as opposed to all the other robots in Portland (err, no, just a case of runner’s high probably). Pfff, Lena is too much of a Bella to be interesting to anyone. But hey, Bella seemed to have been Edward’s it-girl too, besides all her blandness, so what’s good for Edward must be good enough for Alex, right?  But, you know, it sells…

Before I Fall taught the cat never to judge a book by its cover. Delirium taught the cat never to have any sort of expectations about a book, or she might end up bitterly disappointed. Before I Fall taught the cat one other thing, and that is that Delirium is just too much a waste of Lauren Oliver’s talent…’cause she has it, there are glimpses of it in this book, mostly in the little snippets that introduce each chapter, but please get this Delirium trilogy[2] out of your system already and get to the real work!


[1] Like Tally in Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies series, Lena also looks forward to her upcoming procedure. In fact, she can’t wait! But Tally’s ‘change of heart’ felt more believable than Lena’s… Plus, Uglies had hoverboards 😉

[2] A trilogy? Really? Again?

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3 responses

1 10 2012
Beta (by Rachel Cohn) « Ringo the Cat's Blog

[…] yet another dystopian series just because it’s hot at the moment. It might sell (just like e.g. Lauren Oliver’s Delirium sells like hotcakes), but in my opinion, it doesn’t show the author on top of her game.  I have […]

4 11 2012
Pandemonium (by Lauren Oliver) « Ringo the Cat's Blog

[…] is the 2nd book in Lauren Oliver’s dystopian Delirium trilogy. It’s no secret the cat didn’t much care for Delirium, because she found it too much a waste of Oliver’s talent and too much of an easy marketing ploy […]

28 01 2014
My Friend Dahmer / The Darkest Minds | Ringo the Cat's Blog

[…] and/or apocalyptic madness, psychic or otherwise supergifted kids (sometimes even locked up), a romance that might be (or not) and a whole lot of running around that may or may not amount to anything. Rather than being wholly […]

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