There are a million reviews of The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins and you’d have to be living under a rock to have avoided hearing about the movie, which is out now.
It’s the story of sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who lives in a post-apocalyptic world in the fictional country of Panem where the countries of North America once existed. The Capitol, a highly advanced metropolis, holds absolute power over the rest of the nation, which is divided into twelve districts. The Hunger Games are an annual event in which one boy and one girl aged 12 to 18 from each district are selected by lottery to compete in a televised battle in which only one person can survive. The ‘winner’ secures glory and food for their district.
I found The Hunger Games compelling reading but in addition, it got me thinking – not so much about the book itself but about the ‘genre’ that it has been put in. I saw the movie trailer for The Hunger Games when I was at Breaking Dawn* in November 2011 (no, I’m not a Twi-hard but I can answer the question “Are you on Team Edward or Team Jacob?”). I hadn’t heard of The Hunger Games at that point but later downloaded the book onto my Kindle (it’s always book first, movie second for me).
Twilight was written for teens and became a hit with women in the 30+ age bracket. Is The Hunger Games now being positioned for the same audience? I can only answer the question from the point-of-view of a thirty-something woman who has read the Twilight series. Let’s start with why I read Twilight. Honestly, vampires and fantasy is not my scene at all but after a friend whose opinion I trust urged me to read them, I did. At first I struggled with Meyer’s clumsy and often poor writing but I was quickly caught up in the romance – there was certainly enough of a seductive Romeo and Juliet element there to keep you reading.
Which makes The Hunger Games interesting – the story is driven by fear not romance. Thirty-something women don’t ordinarily gravitate to books about children killing each other. Which leads me to ask, why are the 30+ women a target audience? Personally, I was sucked in by the movie-trailer – it’s gripping. I also wanted a quick, satisfying read after my recent run of ordinary books!
It’s interesting that The Hunger Games was originally written for the teen market. Wow. I think the subject is horrifying – kids hunting down each other, ready to kill?! It’s terrifying! Then again, are kids exposed to more these days and therefore desensitized to what is effectively no different to any of the millions of ‘reality-tv’ games that invariably end with an ultimate ‘survivor’? How is it any different to the impossible-to-put-down Flowers in the Attic series (essentially about the incestuous relationship between a brother and sister) that I read when I was a teen? It’s probably not.
So, onto The Hunger Games. As I said, there are a million reviews out there so I won’t give a full critical analysis – instead, a couple of observations. Firstly, it’s hard to put down – had I not had children demanding dinner, I probably would have read it in one sitting. The story is cinematic – the ‘life and death’ plot keeps you turning the pages and the action scenes were obviously calling out to be made into a movie – watch the movie trailer and you’ll see why I trotted home and added the book to my Kindle list straight away.
Secondly, I found Collins’ use of language highly effective. Consider the impact of words like ‘reaping’, ‘tournament’, ‘arena’, ‘tribute’, ‘The Seam’, ‘Remake Centre’ – it’s all powerful stuff and adds a clever and almost subliminal layer to the ‘life and death’ plot. Equally, the contrast between the futuristic and the archaic was very cleverly rendered – in one scene the people are eating “sweet, purple melons” and in the next, they’re making a meagre meal of squirrel or horse meat.
“We follow instructions to my destination, a chamber for my preparation. In the Capitol, they call it the Launch Room. In the districts, it’s referred to as the Stockyard. The place animals go before slaughter.”
Finally, the parallels between the The Hunger Games and reality TV programs are obvious, right down to the flamboyant ‘host’ of the show.
Collins says that the inspiration to write The Hunger Games came from channel surfing on television. On one channel she observed people competing on a reality show and on another she saw footage of the invasion of Iraq. The two “began to blur in this very unsettling way” and the idea for the book was formed. The Greek myth of Theseus served as basis for the story, with Collins describing Katniss as a futuristic Theseus, and that Roman gladiatorial games formed the framework.
Just as I wonder whether teens are desensitized to violence I also wonder about the effects of growing up with so much reality TV – I had a televisual diet of sitcoms growing up – The Brady Bunch, Gilligan’s Island, Family Ties, Who’s the Boss?, Growing Pains and Charles in Charge – much softer than the competitive ‘fight-to-the-death’ (whether it be singing, cooking or other) theme of most reality shows. What does it say about how we should approach life?
There’s only one thing fit to accompany The Hunger Games – a whole buffet.
4/5 – It was a pretty hard to put down and the clever ending makes it tempting to read the next book in the trilogy.
*Note that the trailer for Breaking Dawn: Part 2 is apparently being played at The Hunger Games screenings.