Thanks to VB contributor Jonathan Dodd for this book review of The Hunger Games. Ed
Suzanne Collins is a publishing phenomenon. Like J K Rowling, Phillip Pullman and Stephenie Meyer before her, she has fashioned a series of books telling the story of a remarkable person in a brilliantly-imagined world.
The Hunger Games and its sequels, Catchfire and Mockingjay, are written for what is now known as ‘young adults’, but like all good literature, they are being read by people of all ages.
Just like Harry Potter, parents are taking them up with the encouragement of their children.
The rise of the female adventure writer
In the past, large adventure stories were almost exclusively written by men with male protagonists, but nowadays women writers are showing that they can create stories and characters just as exciting to both male and female readers, and these can include female heroes too.
Katniss Everdeen is one such character who will be remembered for years to come by everyone who reads her story. She lives in a future North America, broken up and remade in the form of a dictatorship with the population divided into 12 areas, each of which is ruthlessly controlled from the centre, the Capitol.
The loathsome President Snow
At the head of this structure is the loathsome President Snow. The areas, which have no names, only numbers, produce the food and goods that the Capitol uses up, and are each reminded every year of their subservient place by the selection of one of their young people to the Hunger Games, a hideous perversion of a TV game show, in which the contestants have to kill each other until there is only one left alive.
This is all staged and enacted in front of the entire population, forced to watch it all on television. Cynics could easily imagine this as a vicious combination of Big Brother and the Roman Games turned up to 11.
It sounds like an unpleasant and exploitative story that would turn people off, but Suzanne Collins makes Katniss such a complex and believable character that I was quickly sucked in to her world and never needed to think about whether it was realistic. It was horribly real to me.
This is accomplished by writing from Katniss’ point of view in the present tense, a difficult writing technique, but one that gives immediacy to the events. Katniss is a sixteen-year-old girl, to whom nothing would be certain anyway.
The pressure put on her in the Games is so extreme that all she can do is react and hope to make the right decisions in life-threatening situations. It is above all her struggle to grow up, let alone survive long enough to do that.
What makes the best books
The best books place an individual’s developing understanding and maturity and strength of purpose against a backdrop of huge significance. There’s Frodo’s mission to destroy the One Ring.
Harry Potter has to come face-to-face with Voldemort, Lyra Belacqua must find the truth about Dark Matter, and Katniss Everdeen lives comfortably in this very select company. She’s difficult, independent, mistrustful and spiky, she has a terrible attitude towards authority, and has no idea of who she is or what effect she has on other people. Learning, for her, is terribly painful, and is often accompanied by actual pain or the death of people she cares about.
The Hunger Games contains a huge amount of violence and danger and extremes of emotion, and it’s truly addictive.
Can’t put it down
I’m in the middle of the third book of the trilogy, and I’m having trouble going to sleep or to work or back to work after lunch, because I have to force myself to put it down. I also can’t wait to catch the film on DVD. Apparently it stays very close to the book.
If it’s half as good, it’ll be wonderful.