Book Remarks: Suzanne Collins, “The Hunger Games”
April 15, 2012 8 Comments
When I traveled a bit last summer, it seemed like all of my friends (and their kids) were reading The Hunger Games or had already read it. Suzanne Collins’ work sounded appealing, as I enjoy science fiction and this seemed to have some sort of social consciousness to it. But it took the release of the Hollywood blockbuster for me to finally get around to reading it myself.
(Warning: I don’t recap a lot of the plot, but you might not want to read these reflections if you haven’t read the book yourself.)
Collins is a capable author, very quickly giving us both a sense of menace as well as the core plot concept, with the last sentence of the very first paragraph…
This is the day of the reaping.
Reaping. It’s a creepy word for a creepy concept, and it works well when embedded within a prose that is often quite normal. The prose is stripped own, verging on the simplistic. It’s effective for delivering the story, but it’s not that kind of delicious literature you can read just for the enjoyment of the words.
Although Collins does have a skill for ending the chapters with dramatic final sentences, such as…
I wonder if she’ll enjoy watching me die.
It would be hard to miss the wall of fire descending on me.
Of course, the simplicity of the the plot and the words might be part of the wide appeal of the book.
The Hunger Games presents us multiple love stories, from the back story of Katniss Everdeen’s parents to the love plots involving Katniss herself. Ah yes, she’s the sometimes reluctant participant in the world of romance. Like Twilight, she gets to both resist (she’s a girl of the forest, not of high fashion) and yet partake (part of the Games conveniently demands high fashion).
The creature standing before me in the full-length mirror has come from another world. Where skin shimmers and eyes flash and apparently they make their clothes from jewels. Because my dress, oh, my dress is entirely covered in reflective precious gems, red and yellow and white with bits of blue that accent the tips of the flame design. The slightest movement gives the impression I am engulfed in tongues of flame. I am not pretty. I am not beautiful. I am as radiant as the sun.
It’s about entering a world of pageantry and performance, and becoming aware of the rules of the game.
She has no idea. The effect she can have.
At times, Katniss’ lack of awareness is a bit frustrating. She can be a bit thick-headed…
“Only…I want to die as myself. Does that make any sense?” [Peeta] asks. I shake my head. How could he die as anyone but himself?
Okay, okay, I get that this emphasizes the importance of living a life in which one has a say, and it’s a terrific message, and maybe I’m the thick-headed one for not understanding why Katniss is so slow to grasp a lesson she has been leading her whole life. It’s also residual resentment from when I was a child reading books where sometimes the children didn’t get it that quickly, and I felt like I was being patronized a smidge. (That’s one reason I adore Roald Dahl. He always has tremendous respect for children.)
Another way to look at it is that Katniss is smart as a whip when it comes to survival and spotting danger, but can be dull as a drunkard when it comes to what or who might be on her side.
To me, the rivalry in the games is a little less Lord of the Flies (a steady descent into barbarism) and a little more gym class (a revelation of already present cruelty, albeit heightened). I actually found the book a bit boring until the games actually began. Collins knows how to write action scenes which move forward emotionally as well as physically. This is where the plot twists start to work.
I like the blend of high and low tech, of bow-and-arrow alongside super-television. Collins pushes the boundaries a bit by having children engaged in such violence, but I felt fairly confident all along that Katniss would never be placed in a situation where, for example, she would have to kill someone in cold blood in order to save herself. And we aren’t really told the full circumstances of those she killed, their home lives, the reasons they were driven to want to kill, and the like.
There are other good old-fashioned messages…
Cinna thinks about this a moment. “Why don’t you just be yourself?”
…but there is the danger of associating Katniss’ survival with virtue. As in, she survives because she is a good person, which comes a wee bit near to suggesting that good people should be expected to survive such circumstances.
Katniss’ old friend Gale is the one whose social and political consciousness start to make increasing sense.
Gale’s voice is in my head. His ravings against the Capitol no longer pointless, no longer to be ignored.
The kids have an awareness that they are playing to an audience within the book as well as for each other, and the politics resonate well with our current political climate.
District Twelve. Where you can starve to death in safety.
The major difference, of course, is the clarity of good and evil in The Hunger Games. That can be positive, in that it can remind us that it is evil to live in a society which has wealth but does not allow the poor and the hungry the same access and opportunity as those who have inherited wealth. (I’m constantly astounded that we need reminders of this.) I’ll be curious to see how the next two books complicate the picture. Will it delve more into how people become complicit in a system, and reveal more about how a society can come to depend upon inequity?
Yes, that means I will be reading Catching Fire and Mockingjay. I didn’t feel that The Hunger Games has the same depth or characterization of works like The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter, but those are pretty high standards. It was a fun read, and I’ll be moving on to the next stage of the contest.
Clarissa’s Blog: Is The Hunger Games a Feminist Novel?
secondshelfdown: I shit ye not. Katniss Barbie
reading between the lines: Open Plaigarism – Suzanne Collin’s Hunger Games
For the Love of Books: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Polentical: Twilight of and for the Youth