Friday 5 November 2010
The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins
The story is set many years into the future, after some vaguely specified apocalypse has virtually destroyed the USA. The country has been rebuilt as Panem, split into Districts, and ruled over by the tyrannical Capitol. Poverty exists everywhere else, stealing punishable by death which may be preferable to the slower death by starvation one otherwise faces. The highlight of the year is called The Hunger Games. Once a year, twenty four teenagers - a boy and a girl from each District - are entered into a reality TV show - a survival show. Literally. The show is a fight to the death, the winner being the last survivor. Contestants may opt-in, but not out. If you are chosen, there is nothing you can do but go through with the horrific ordeal. Our heroine, Katniss Everdeen volunteers for the contest to save her beloved little sister from having to take part and no doubt be horribly slaughtered.
I did not expect to like The Hunger Games. The very thought of it repulses me and I wasn't sure I could handle a story that would be, essentially, a series of different death scenes, and of kids! Yet, over and over again, on blog after blog, I read rave reviews, and cannot recall a single negative one. Some people wrote that they were disappointed after the hype of Mockingjay, or maybe that the middle book was the weakest of the three, but the series as a whole received unanimous thumbs-up, so I decided I would try it and see what the fuss was all about.
I found The Hunger Games to be a very powerful book, with a terrifyingly well-realised world, some strong characters and a lot of action. Yet I'm not quite sure what the secret is. There are a lot of aspects of this book that usually turn me off a story - even if you leave out the evil that is the Hunger Games contest itself. I often don't like hardened, tough, cynical protagonists, and Katniss has aged before her time. She has had to. Her father is dead, her mother went to pieces with grief, and she was left as the head of the family in a brutal world. She has to be strong to survive, and she is presented as a realistic product of her upbringing. More than that, she is a real character, three-dimensional, understandable if not always sympathetic. Peeta, her companion from District 12, is quieter, at first glance weaker, a bit of a drip - or at least, that is how Katniss sees him. Yet as the story progresses and Katniss gets to know Peeta better, Peeta reveals an inner strength that was previously hidden.
The Hunger Games themselves take up the majority of the book, mostly showing Katniss hiding, trying to find food and water out in the wilderness and just to stay alive. There is not a lot of human interaction or dialogue, as any other humans she meets are out to kill her. Again, I feel I ought to have got bored at times through these extended scenes, but Collins keeps you caring enough to want to know what happens next.
This next part contains some spoilers:
I was a little disappointed with the ending, or rather, I would have been if I hadn't known that the story continues. Firstly, the Gamemakers move the goalposts partway through the Games, which struck me as cheating on behalf of Collins, as it eliminates one of the hardest challenges Katniss and Peeta, if they were the last two survivors, would have to face - or would, if they didn't move them back at the last minute. Cunning, though, as it gives Katniss, Peeta and the reader a sense of relief before knocking them down back again, so maybe it wasn't quite the cheat I initially thought. I was sorry, however, that the pair seemed so resigned to the Capitol's regime and apart from a couple of token acts of rebellion, do little to change the world in which they live. I had thought that Katniss would defy the Capitol more strongly than she did, and even in the last pages I was waiting for her protest that this is not right. I'm still waiting.
I'm not sure that The Hunger Games is as amazing as the hype had led me to believe, but it is a very good book, and it was a lot better than the book blurb and my reading taste came together to expect.