Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins

I loves me some dystopian fiction; there’s no deny it.  I spent years of my undergraduate degree trying to fit a utopian/dystopian English class into my timetable, and only managed it during my last year.  I read Utopia by Thomas More as a teenager, and have been enjoying the genre ever since.  When the book The Hunger Games came across my radar, I wasn’t sure I was interested until I found out it was about North American society a century plus in the future, following (an unexplained) massive social upheaval.  Since The Hunger Games is going to be made into a movie, I wanted to read the book before I heard too much about the production, and before seeing it for myself.

This is the first work that I’ve read by Suzanne Collins, and I find her to be a good author.  Her plot was extremely engaging, and her characters immediately likable.  I’ve always considered the challenge in dystopian fiction to be the creation of a recognizable society that is different enough to produce fear in the contemporary reader, and Collins’ work hit that nail on the head.  The book is fast paced and never lags, and is enjoyable from start to finish.  

The Hunger Games themselves are a yearly ritual in Panem (formerly known as North America).  Each year the satellite states (known as Districts, of which there are 12 in total) of the main state (the Capitol) are forced to send two children each to battle each other to the death.  It’s basically a game of capture the flag with sharp edges, and it’s all televised for the watching enjoyment of the Capitol, and the forced viewing of the Districts.  The ritual is supposed to punish the Districts for an insurgence almost 75 years earlier, and provides an opportunity for the Capitol to humiliate them and keep them psychologically beat down.  With the contestants being chosen by lottery, there is a constant fear of loosing a child, which is what makes the ritual so successful year-round.  Like I said, I deviously well charted plot that draws the readers in.

Why, however, did Collins’ plot rely on children aged 12-18?  This was a question that I only asked myself when I finished reading the book.  It seems like the choice of age would be terrain rife for soul searching as the characters are forced to dig deep to find out if they could kill each other.  Collins seems to have foreseen this complaint and indicates multiple time that the children, raised watching the games, were immune to these types of questions – it was a task they had to complete, like math homework, and just got on with it.  I don’t care how hard the living is – drop a 12 year old in a forest with 23 other people trying to kill them, and the stage is set for a lot of confusion and soul-searching.  Collins didn’t tap into this.  This decision drew me a little bit out of the story, but not enough that I didn’t enjoy the read.  I still say, however, the story would have been as effective if she had Logan’s Run-ed it, and kept the main characters in their late teens/early 20s.

The Hunger Games is the first of a trilogy of novels by Collins.  This first book sets up a love triangle and a potential rebellion against the state for the following books.  I don’t know how I feel about that.  I think the ending Collins had for the work is strong enough to stand on its own as a single book, and I don’t know if there will be much value in continuing the story.  But, of course, the world revolves around money, so the books were written.  To me, the beauty of a dystopian fiction is that it ends in hopelessness, and the reader feels like nothing can change: the point of the genre is to reflect on how shitty life really could be, and make you think that your petty complaints aren’t all that bad.  I fear that books two and three of the trilogy will try to wrap up everything too neatly, ruining the effect of the dystopian world Collins has created.

Will I read the other two – most definitely.  But let’s just say I’m not rushing out to Chapters first thing tomorrow morning to pick them up (which, I have done with book series that I adored after reading the first).  Will I go see the movie when it comes out – of course.  As much as I hate film adaptations, I live in hope that some film maker will eventually get it right.  I’ll definitely recommend that people read the book, if for no other reason that it’s gearing up to be part of the zeitgeist, but I’ll reserve judgment on the sequels for now.  And, in the mean time, here’s to hoping that The Hunger Games survives the silver screen.

Update: To read my reviews on the sequels, Catching Fire and Mockingjay, click here.

1 comment:

  1. Josh is reading this one too, I thought it was about food fighting...this is why I don't write book reviews. Keep up the good work!