Tuesday, 21 February 2012

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

The Hunger Games in one of those books which seems to have taken on a near-mythic quality on certain areas of the internet.  Generally acknowledged to be amazing by these interwebbers, I simultaneously both longed to read it and dreaded it because I was sure it could never live up to its hype.

I find it a little strange, therefore, that upon reading it, I seem to have fallen comfortably in between these two options (although admittedly leaning more toward the positive end).

I read the entire thing in one day - it definitely had that just-a-little-bit-more, can't-put-it-down feel - and yet once I'd finished it, I didn't quickly pick it back up to re-read bits, which for me is usually an indicator that I've enjoyed it.  I have done since, once, but it was still fairly surprising for me that - given how frantically I consumed the thing - I had no desire to revisit sections in the days following.

The Hunger Games follows Katniss, a teenage girl from District Twelve in the country of Panem, a dystopian future version of North America.  Every year, each District must give two tributes - a boy and a girl between the ages of 12 and 18 - to participate in the Hunger Games, a televised fight to the death, as punishment for an earlier uprising against the Capitol.  When Katniss's younger sister Primrose is picked as tribute, Katniss volunteers to go in her place.

When I first heard the premise of the story, I assumed a major part of it would be a comment on reality television and the increasingly ridiculous extremes it is being taken to.  It turned out, however, that The Hunger Games deals with ideas so much bigger than that, and is all the better for it.  This is a book about survival, cruelty and freedom.

Collins is excellent at portraying the brutality of the world she has created, not only in the Hunger Games themselves but in Katniss's life before that, living with poverty and oppression, avoiding starvation only because she learned how to hunt illegally.

These elements are what stood out most for me in this novel.  There is a love story - which from what I can gather develops further in books two and three - but it doesn't dominate the world.  I was therefore surprised to see some reviewers dismissively lump it into the category of 'a book for teenage girls' which, while not actually an insult, is no doubt meant as one.  They group it with stuff like Twilight which, for a book as harsh and cruel as The Hunger Games can be, seems at the very least a bit odd.  Let's face it, Twilight is basically fluff, with (considering most of its characters are bloodthirsty murderers) a pathetically low death count.  The Hunger Games, on the other hand, is a true fighting book, full of action and never dull, even in moments of quiet.

It's not that I'm trying to applaud or glorify violence - I just admire the fact that Collins isn't afraid to write death, to kill her characters if the story calls for it.  It shows a certain bravery, I think, and commitment to the plot.  In a way, it makes it feel true.

I hope to get to book two - Catching Fire - soon.

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