Reviews from Lord Taylor of Glencoe
The Hunger Games: Suzanne Collins, February 10—March 17, 2013
My rating: ♦♦♦♦◊
The Hunger Games begin with this first instalment of Stephanie Collin’s eponymous hype-fest (because hype worked last time…). For the 74th time, the sinister rulers (“Capitol”) randomly select a girl and boy from each of the 13 districts to compete to the death on live TV. Rather than being sick entertainment, the Hunger Games exist to show the common man who’s in charge (the “Gamemakers”) and are abhorred by the general populous. This isn’t so much a Black Mirror-esque warning about where our reality TV fascination will lead us, but instead a chilling dystopian near-future in which TV just so happens to be the dictators’ weapon of choice.
The first half of the book sees our heroine step up to represent her district in her sister’s place and undertake the necessary training. It’s an interesting background that adds a depth to the situation. Symbolically and emotionally, Collins does a lot of groundwork here and the book would be a weaker production without it. Having said that, being called The Hunger Games, one can’t help feeling that the build-up is just that – a build up – and as such, for half the book you’re waiting around for the main event. Once the Games begin, things are much more as expected though Collins is to be commended for writing a book which is well-paced with no obvious fillers or sluggish passages.
Collins does a good job of inducting us into this new world. The narrator, Katniss, begins by going for a walk and conversationally fills the reader in on the recent history they’ve missed. The first chapter or two reads like the novel equivalent of a video game training level where you come across a box, a low bridge and a baddie to jump over, slide under and kick respectively. Nevertheless, it’s entertaining and although the reader is aware of being educated, it’s not intrusive.
Katniss herself is the lead character and has been lauded as a “strong female lead”. Yes, she is strong and in the areas Collins has developed her, she has depth of character. In others, nil. She considers her objection to the Games and her dislike of Capitol, but fails to establish interpersonal relationships with characters not directly relevant to her story arc. She’s intelligent enough to keep the story moving and work out what to do to move us on to the next bit each time, and fortunately doesn’t spend too long debating or wallowing. Although she has arguably more misery heaped upon her than Malorie Blackman’s Sephy, Katniss does not break down in self-pity nearly as much as the inhabitants of the Noughts & Crosses dystopia.
As is standard with YA fiction, Katniss has two strapping lads that have placed her in a ménage à trois though congratulations to Collins for actually making this thoroughly predictable plot device a little different from the norm. Gale is a long-standing friend without any romantic undertones (thinks Katniss) and Peeta is the bloke she has to off, yet whom has shown great kindness in the past and declares his love for her on TV. Both are very different relationships and it’s relatively interesting to see Katniss work through these feelings.
The other competitor (“tribute”) to note is Rue, a young girl that Kantiss forms a near-maternal bond with. Their alliance is well played out and Collins plunders the full emotional depth of it in due course.
Peeta and Rue aside, there is very little development given to the remaining tributes. Several members of this ensemble cast are grouped together as a single entity and the remainder are ignored. There could have been more development in this area to create a richer world and, indeed, a story with which the reader could connect more. More generally, Katniss didn’t question the morality of her own actions or really consider her position. Given the brutal nature of the plot, and its young target audience, there was a matter-of-factness about it. Particularly when on the offensive, Katniss seemed bizarrely – if not psychotically – detached and it appears to be a massive miss for Collins.
Better attention was paid to Kantiss’s entourage – in particular Haymitch, her comedy value drunken mentor, and her designer. Both were excellent additions to the cast that were used perfectly.
There are a few twists towards the end that are quite unexpected, however a survival-of-the-fittest battle with a first-person narrator has some built-in predictability that wasn’t necessary; a third person limited omniscient mode could have communicated just as easily Katniss’s thoughts and inner struggles with at least a degree of mortal danger being plausible.
Overall, a dark concept executed moderately well, and a very interesting question of how its sequels will develop the idea further into something new.