I’ve been struggling to get this review done, mainly due to spending the vast majority of time reading The Passage, but as the film is due to hit the big screen shortly I’ve put down my kindle to bring you this short but sweet review of the first part of the Hunger Games Trilogy.
Title: The Hunger Games
Author: Suzanne Collins
Description: Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen regards it as a death sentence when she is forced to represent her district in the annual Hunger Games, a fight to the death on live TV. But Katniss has been clse to death before-and survival, for her, is second nature. The Hunger Games is a searing novel set in a future with unsettling parallels to our present. Welcome to the deadliest reality TV show ever… - Amazon.co.uk
Review: The Hunger Games is set just over a century from now. North America is a ravaged land, hit by floods and crumbling from war. Out of the ashes a new nation has awoken, Panem, consisting of the glorious metropolis known as the Capitol and twelve outer districts. The districts are known by number and their soul purpose is to provide the Capitol with resources (there was previously a thirteenth district, however this was destroyed in a rebellion). To keep the civilians in line, the government enforces the Hunger Games, a Big Brother style reality TV show with a twist… 24 teenage children must fight one another for survival in a game of wits and strength.
I’m not going to go to in-depth on the storyline of The Hunger Games, mainly as I don’t want to spoil the story line for those of you who haven’t had the pleasure of reading it yet and because the rather shiny looking movie trailer does a rather good job of summing it up! Our protagonist, sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen volunteers to take the place of her sister when she is randomly selected for the Games. Transported to a hostile wilderness, Katniss must use every bit of her cunning and her training as a hunter to prevail. The premise is unoriginal but Collins nevertheless executes it well.
The book does have a potential problem in that it does come off very much like a Battle Royale-lite. Whilst that’s not a problem if you’ve never read or seen Battle Royale, if you have then the weaknesses of The Hunger Games become slightly more apparent. Most notably, whilst Collins’ Games are cruel, they don’t match the shocking harshness that Royale achieves by simply having all the contestants be in the same school year, meaning they’ve known one another for years before having to kill one another. In that sense, Koushan Takami scores higher with some of the things he wants to say about youth being a struggle for survival. At the same time, the two works, whilst stemming from the same basic idea, are aimed in rather different directions and Takami benefits from a much greater word-count and a more adult audience to work with, so comparisons between the two are fair only up to a certain point.
Collins also holds back on exploring the full savagery of the games, perhaps understandably given the target audience. Still, there is the feeling that we more hear about how horrible the games are rather than seeing them in full flow (one tense moment involving mutated dogs aside). In addition, we know very little about the other contestants. A couple get some nice moments in the sun so we feel bad when they die, but generally the focus of the game itself is the mental battle of wills and PR that Katniss and Peeta are playing with the people running the game. This is surprising and considerably more difficult than just showing the contestants offing one another, since this struggle can only by necessity be depicted through one side, since we only have Katniss’s point of view, so we, like her, can only guess what the people in the Capitol are up to. To Collins’ credit she pulls it off, and works in a couple of interesting themes about reality TV, bloodsports, PR and marketing into the bargain.
Moving on from that, The Hunger Games is a fast-paced, enjoyable read with some interesting things to say about celebrity and PR, not to mention a counter-intuitive approach to the inevitable romance story, but suffers a little from the well-mined premise and limited characterisation. I’d have loved for Collins to have taken some of the other characters a little further so that you felt a little more for them as the story unravels. With only two characters of note, the story can feel a little lacklustre at times. Don’t get me wrong, Katniss is an intriguing and somewhat loveable character, but I really enjoyed the way that Collins establishes the character and motivation of Peeta – Katniss’s “ally” in the games – since we only see him through Katniss’s eyes.
If you can squeeze this in before going to see it on the big screen I’d highly recommend it, the trilogy as a whole works really well with each book linking together perfectly.