01/02/2012. Contributed by Tim Done
pub: Scholastic Fiction. 464 page paperback. ISBN: 978-1-40710-908-4. Price: GBP 8.99 (UK). 454 page Kindle ebook. Price: GBP 4.05 (UK). ISBN: 1-40719-084.
check out website: www.scholastic.co.uk
I was expecting death. I was certainly expecting murder. But, an intelligent, character driven story which candidly exposes the current obsession with all things celebrity…I wasn’t expecting that.
I came to ‘The Hunger Games’ by Suzanne Collins because I know it’s slated to be 2012’s summer movie blockbuster and wanted to explore the world in my own imagination before I have Hollywood dictate to me how ‘The Hunger Games’ looks and feels. In my head, vaguely, I remember a time when Harry Potter didn’t look like Daniel Radcliffe. I know, weird, isn’t it? I wasn’t expecting the prose to be up to much and, if I’m honest, I was expecting a gore fest with ever more inventive ways of killing the contests of the titular Hunger Games.
This isn’t that book.
‘The Hunger Games’ postulates that North America has been destroyed and the states split into a wealthy Capitol and twelve surrounding Districts, each with varying degrees of wealth. To quell the seeds of rebellion, each year the Capitol shows its might by enforcing each District to send two random contestants, one boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen, to participate in a televised fight to the death in a dangerous outdoor arena.
So far, so schlock-horror, right?
Wrong. Our entry point into the story is Katniss Everdeen, a feisty young girl from the poorest District who survives because of her hunting ability. Her narration enables what could be an exercise in torture-porn to rise to something more. The loss of her innocence throughout the novel is expertly recorded and the tender moments she shares with other contestants is both realistic and heartbreaking.
Writing this at a time when ‘Celebrity Big Brother’ is on television, having been proceeded by a reality show similarly set in a jungle landscape, Katniss’ gradual awareness of how her actions shape the public perception of her hold a mirror up to our own appetite for reality television and the ritual humiliation of its participants for our communal entertainment. I wasn’t expecting this level of socio-political comment from a book which is ostensibly aimed at teens.
If you’ve read the Japanese manga serial ‘Battle Royale’ (which the author claims never to have read prior to writing ‘The Hunger Games’), you’ll be on familiar ground so far. While the novel certainly re-visits the themes from ‘Battle Royale’, it transcends from a simple horror/thriller through the breadth of the world which Katniss inhabits. We’re told a lot about the political make-up of the society and how the shadowy Capitol uses the games to control its subjects. We see what happens to previous winners of the Games. We find out about the uprising against the Capitol which led to the inception of the annual event in the first place. This information adds to the backdrop of the games and ultimately, gives a worryingly realistic and wholly believable canvas to the tale, bringing depth and scope to the novel. The Capitol and the corruption therein is enough for a novel all of its own. Clearly, Suzanne Collins thought similarly as she hints at her plans to sate my appetite for more Capitol intrigue in the following novel of the trilogy during the closing chapter of the novel.
‘The Hunger Games’ isn’t perfect. The prose is a little clunky and rarely shows any finesse. The dialogue is sometimes a bit tacky and overly dramatic. You’ll need to leave an hour free to start the book. It takes a while to get to the Hunger Games themselves and whilst the time spent in the Capitol is interesting and pivotal to the novel and it seems the structure of the trilogy, that’s not apparent as the novel opens. I only appreciated the Capitol scenes after I’d finished. I remember finding them irritating at the start as I waited for the Hunger Games of the title to start in earnest.
That being said, this is still a book which rewards the reader with a sumptuous, visual feast for the imagination and before Katniss becomes synonymous with Jennifer Lawrence when the film is released this year, ‘The Hunger Games’ should feature high on your list of books to read.
After all, the Capitol demand it.
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