The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins

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“A first-person version of Battle Royale! With a love interest!”

I don’t “do” literature much here: I used to read a ferocious amount, but time and opportunity have waned since I stop commuting by train to work. However, I got a Kindle for my birthday, and that spurred me to finish the first novel I’ve read in a long time. While I enjoyed Hunger, and am keen to see the movie version, I was not blown away by this as much I hoped. It’s certainly a provocative premise. In a dystopian future, the former US has been divided up into districts. To discourage rebellion, each year every district sends two teenagers, selected at random, to the capital. They are placed in a large, multi-terrain arena for a nationally-televised tournament to the death: last one alive wins glory and a life of ease. When her younger sister is selected in their District 12, Katniss Everdeen volunteers to replace her: she has been using her hunting skills to support her family, so feels she has a much better chance of survival. But it’s still one against twenty-three…

As noted above, it has often been compared to Japanese cult classic Battle Royale, even if Collins claims the legend of Theseus as her inspiration. Here, the “reality show” elements are definitely more amped-up, with contestant makeovers, interviews, etc. Once the competition is under way, is when the book is at its strongest. Collins does not soft-pedal things at all, as the field is quickly whittled down through a mix of brutality and subterfuge, and it becomes inescapably addictive, to see what curve is going to be thrown at Katniss next, and how she’ll cope with it. For cope she will, since she’s a resourceful, smart and physically adept heroine, a marvellous counterpoint to many alleged “heroines” offered up to young adults.

Unfortunately, there’s also the obligatory love triangle, with Team Gale [the hunting partner Katniss leaves behind] and Team Peeta [the baker’s son chosen as the other District 12 tribute]. How can she choose between them? For the early part of the book, this doesn’t intrude too much, but it eventually becomes the elephant in the corner, overshadowing all else. The pacing also blows: the finale should be the climax of the games, as the last few contestants battle it out, with a brief coda thereafter. But, instead, Collins ramps up the teen angst, and the novel peters out into an uncertain conclusion, ending not with a bang, but a whimper. I really hope I’m not in for more of the same in part two.

Author: Suzanne Collins
Publisher: Scholastic

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