Monday, 15 August 2011
Review: The Hunger Games - Suzanne Collins
Extent: 464 pages
Pub Date: 5th January 2009
In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. The Capitol is harsh and cruel and keeps the districts in line by forcing them all to send one boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen to participate in the annual Hunger Games, a fight to the death on live TV.
Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who lives alone with her mother and younger sister, regards it as a death sentence when she steps forward to take her sister's place in the Games. But Katniss has been close to dead before—and survival, for her, is second nature. Without really meaning to, she becomes a contender. But if she is to win, she will have to start making choices that will weigh survival against humanity and life against love.
I was a bit hesitant about reading The Hunger Games as with all the hype I thought it might turn out to be another Twilight where gushy romance and swoonathons take away all sense of plot but I am unbelievably happy to find The Hunger Games was nothing like Twilight. For a start, the heroine, Katniss, is a real force to be reckoned with: she is strong, resourceful and courageous beyond measure. Now that’s a proper heroine!
I think the most shocking aspect of The Hunger Games was actually that I didn’t find it shocking at all. Suzanne Collins so easily conjures up this post-apocalyptic civilisation and my belief in its validity is either testament to my pessimism and a lack of faith in humanity or it’s just damn good writing. In reality, it’s probably both and that is why Suzanne has hit on such a good story. People nowadays always hark back to the gladiatorial games of Ancient Rome when they think of abject cruelty and sadism but I hasten to ask the question: are we so different now? OK so we don’t put people in inescapable stone rings and demand blood but we do like to watch people suffer. I once flicked over to Britain’s Got Talent out of curiosity but was so disgusted by the behaviour of the crowd when someone wasn’t all that talented, booing and jeering, I had to immediately abandon channel. And what really sells newspapers and gets the viewing figures up on the news on TV? Peace, love and random acts of kindness? No. It’s war, terrorism and other random acts of cruelty. OK, I’m starting to go on a bit, but this innate brutality in humans is exactly what Suzanne has tapped into in The Hunger Games. She has taken the glorification of the gladiators, the sadism of reality TV and the psychology of war and put them in a future where humans really haven’t changed all that much. If you were to ask me: can you imagine a future where the privileged prey upon the poor, force children to engage in fights to the death and turn punishment for a war long over into public celebration and entertainment? I would have to say “yes” and the proof lies scattered throughout history and has come to life in this book.
I cannot begin to explain how much The Hunger Games affected me and it probably has a lot to do with the fact that I think reality TV is a sick modern version of the gladiatorial games. People just love to watch other people in pain, whether it’s physical or mental and The Hunger Games runs up and punches you in the face with that fact. No one thinks about the long-term damage that their booing and jeering has on people but Suzanne Collins presents the reader with a case study in the emotionally damaged Katniss. I can’t wait to read the other books in the series as I can’t even begin to imagine how Katniss is going to put her life back together. If you’ve ever wondered what turns a normal person into a killer then don’t bother with the psychology journals, it’s all right here, frighteningly real but definitely not shocking.