First Published: 2008
Pages: 454 (Paperback)
Series: The Hunger Games #1
MAY THE ODDS BE EVER IN YOUR FAVOUR
WINNING WILL MAKE YOU FAMOUS.
LOSING MEANS CERTAIN DEATH.
In a dark vision of the near future, twelve boys and twelve girls are forced to appear in a live TV show called the Hunger Games. There is only one rule: kill or be killed.
When sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen steps forward to take her sister’s place in the games, she sees it as a death sentence. But Katniss has been close to death before. For her, survival is second nature.
Catching up on some reviews that, for various reasons, I never got round to writing in 2013.
‘When I wake up, the other side of the bed is cold. My fingers stretch out, seeking Prim’s warmth but finding only the rough canvas cover of the mattress’. From the very first, dreadful, sentence of this book, I expected to hate it. First-person present-tense, there is no style of writing more designed to irritate. It puts one in mind of bad radio dramas and that slow, deliberate, patronising voice people use when reading poetry. So, it’s to Collins’ credit that by the halfway point I had ceased to really notice the annoying narrative technique and become totally sucked into the story. Instead of hating The Hunger Games, I actually really enjoyed it.
Before even picking it up, I had mixed-to-low expectations. I had some friends who loved it, but it had been hyped to the extent it could never live up to the praise, and then I had some friends who really really detested it. So I went in with the notion that it was probably just one of those average books that isn’t great, but isn’t terrible, and that some people just inexplicably love to the irritation of more critical readers. And going in with that preconception probably helped a lot. I didn’t expect great things of this book so I was really very pleasantly surprised y how much I enjoyed it. if I had bought into the ‘best book ever’ hype I would have enjoyed this book a lot less.
Because it’s not the best book ever, not even close. Aside from the first-person, present-tense irritation, the love triangle is stupid, the action scenes contrived, the characters underdeveloped, and the world-building patchy. But what it is is a fun holiday read, the sort of book I could just enjoy by the side of a swimming pool in France after slogging through 900 pages of Tom Jones (Review to come if I can think of anything to say).
The Hunger Games is set in a dystopian future version of North America (what the rest of the world is doing, we never know) made up of 12 districts that provide all the raw materials and industry, ruled over by the ‘capitol’, where everyone dresses like they’re from a low budget sci-fi movie. The titular Hunger Games are a yearly competition between the districts, and a way for the capitol to keep them all under their control; a 24-child fight to the death match with one girl and boy between 12 and 18 being chosen from each district to compete to kill everybody elser. The logistics of how this actually stops uprisings rather than sparks them, I will ignore because that’s just part of the premise and you’ve got to accept that if you want to enjoy the book at all.
The hero, Katniss Everdeen, has spent most of her childhood illegally poaching game with a bow and arrow to feed her family. When her twelve year old sister is selected to represent District 12 in the games, Katniss immediately volunteers in her place. The male tribute for district 12, however, Peeta Malark, is determined to make the already difficult job of killing 23 teenagers on national TV even more difficult by declaring his love for her and getting pissy when she has more important things to deal with than his stupid feelings.
Yeah, I didn’t like Peeta, I will never like Peeta, and no, I don’t think Katniss should get with Gale either. It’s a shame, because Peeta started off quite well, he was a nice, non-macho, non-poturising, non-abusive teenage love interest with an interesting story of how they first met. If Collins had stuck with that I’d be all for it. What’s more romantic than a guy helping out a starving girl on the street from the goodness of his heart and then taking an interest in her? Well, what’s definitely not more romantic is the ‘I’ve loved you since we were five years old’ line or the ‘my father fancied your mother, but she fell in love with someone else’ backstory. It’s cliche, it’s creepy, it’s bad writing, I almost threw my book in the swimming pool, and no matter what Peeta does there is no going up in my estimation after that. I’m not a romantic sort of girl and after that Peeta makes me want to vomit whenever he talks about Katniss.
Katniss herself though? Pretty cool. Though I would have liked her to be a bit more detached, more mercenary and manipulative. All the action sequences in this book really are contrived to make her and Peeta look heroic and unquestionably in the right. She only ever kills in self defence or to avenge a friend. The other tributes are barely characterised at all, some don’t even have names. But this is a book about children being forced to kill each other for entertainment. Where’s the moral ambiguity if you make Katniss ‘good’ with a capital G and most of the other children trying to survive ‘evil’ or not important enough to name? I know the story is told from Katniss’ point of view, that it’s bound to be biased in her favour, and that the sequels portray a more complex morality, but just one kill where it wasn’t strictly necessary to survive or emotionally driven… where she gave into the rules of the game… it would have gone a long way. And given her something to really think about and feel guilty for in the next books.
All in all though, a fun book. And just the sort of read I was in the mood for at the time. In fact, stranded out in Budapest a week later with two books I wasn’t enjoying very much, I marched straight down to the english bookshop and picked up books 2 and 3.