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The Hunger Games (book review)

9 June 2012

The Hunger Games (The Hunger Games, #1)The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When I began reading this book, I thought it was in the same genre as 1984 and Brave New World. It is set in a dystopian future, roughly in the area of the present USA, which in the book is called Panem, and is divided into twelve districts, each dedicated to one kind of economic activity. There had been thirteen districts, but one had been wiped out in a rebellion against the Capitol, a new capital city somewhere in the Rocky Mountains. To keep the districts in line each has to pay tribute in the form of a boy and a girl between the ages of 12 and 18, who have to fight to the death in an arena, with the last survivor being the victor, and entitled to live a life of luxury from then on.

The “tributes” are chosen by lot, but Katniss Everdeen, aged 16, volunteers to take her younger sister’s place. She sets off for the Capitol with the local baker’s son, who has occasionally been kind to her in the past, realising that they might have to kill each other.

Once they get into the arena, another genre crops up, William Golding‘s Lord of the Flies, which the scene in the arena resembles. I read other three books I have mentioned in my late teens, at the age at which I would have been eligible to have been chosen for the games had I been a subject of the fictional state of Panem. I’ve read all three of those books several times since, so it’s a genre that I find appealing, and have for a long time.

Though Brave New World and 1984 are set in the future (at least, in the case of 1984, at the time when it was written) they satirise present trends in society by extrapolating them into the future. In the case of Brave New World the main trend is mass production, and hedonistic pleasure seeking. In the case of 1984 it is the surveillance society, and in both there is the bombardment of citizens by propaganda to enforce conformity to a totalitarian society. In the case of Brave New World this is done primarily by distracting people by the pursuit of pleasure and recreation. In the case of 1984 it is done by fear and threat. And in The Hunger Games it is done by both.

The present trend that is extrapolated into the future in The Hunger Games is “reality” TV shows. One of the first of these, Big Brother, deliberately recalled 1984. In The Hunger Games it is this that places it in the same genre. Another such reality TV show is Survivor.

I bought The Hunger Games because people I knew had read it and blogged about it, and their comments made it sound interesting. And as I read The Hunger Games I thought it was as good as, if not better than the others I have mentioned. I had noticed that it was the first of a trilogy, and when I was about half-way through I was thinking that it was a seriously good book, and had just about made up my mind to buy the other books in the series. I was preparing to give it four or five stars on Good Reads.

But in the end I gave it only three stars, because about two-thirds of the way into the story the author seemed to have fumbled the ball and lost the plot. The climax built up, the tension mounted, and then suddenly the whole thing just collapsed. Or so it seemed to me.

I won’t say which point I think that was, for the sake of those who haven’t read the book, and some might disagree with me on that point anyway. But if you’ve read the book, feel free to say something about it in the comments, and so will I. If you haven’t read the book, don’t read the comments until you have, or have decided not to read it; then there won’t be any spoilers.
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10 Comments leave one →
  1. 9 June 2012 1:19 pm

    Warning: spoilers ahead!

    Don’t read if you have not read the book and want to!

    I said that there was a point in the story at which the author lost the plot, and everything that followed was anticlimax.

    For me that point is quite precisely demarcated. In my edition it is halfway down page 239. It was just after the death of Rue, when Katniss, the heroine, receives a loaf of bread from Rue’s district, and realised what it must have meant to them, and utters her thanks to the ever-present but unseen TV cameras.

    For me, that was the most moving moment in the whole book, and it was all downhill from that moment on, as it descended into banality and triviality. I haven’t quite made up my mind whether the “mutts” at the end actually jumped the shark, but they certainly skated perilously close to doing so.

    Of course one cannot write someone else’s book for them, but I felt that this book cried out for a different ending, which is hinted at in what went before. The loaf of bread was clearly in appreciation for Katniss’s befriending of Rue, and covering her with flowers after her death, in itself a significant act of rebellion.

    The tension drops immediately after that with the announcement that that there can be two victors, a kind of Deus ex machina. And I find myself wishing that there had there had been no such announcement, that Katniss had resolved then and there that she would not kill Peeta, but had still nursed him back to health, and that they had hunted the other surviving “tributes” for the purpose of getting them to join their rebellion, and simply refused to fight each other any more. Their fate may have been that of the savage in Brave New World or of Winston Smith in 1984, but it would have made a better story.

  2. 9 June 2012 3:56 pm

    I haven’t read the book, but I recently saw the film and I agree with you. I had the same feeling at that point of the story.

  3. 10 June 2012 1:18 am

    I loved the series. I have read it twice. I have not seen the movie yet but the movie is never as good as the book.

  4. One Who Belches Instead of Activating Vocal Chords permalink
    23 June 2012 10:58 am

    Here is one of the harshest reviews on this book I have ever read. I love it with vicious pleasure.

  5. 14 July 2012 12:15 am

    A great post – I loved this book and couldn’t wait to read Catching Fire and Mockingjay!

  6. 4 August 2012 11:42 pm

    I have to agree with you when you mentioned that the author look kinda lost the plot in the middle of the story. At first when I read it, I didnt realise this, but then again I would have wish that they didnt made such announcement and Katniss will search for peeta and nurse him and together the run out in the wild or whatever. But i really love this book, I really do! whoever who didnt read it yet, please do so becasue it’s so good i want to cry.

  7. 12 October 2012 9:43 pm

    You are EXACTLY RIGHT. I hated how amoral Katniss was, and kept longing and longing for her to have a moral transformation. I hated how the only way Katniss & Peeta could defy the government’s violence was by another form of violence (suicide). And even though the rebellion you wanted about grows throughout Book II and is fully realized in Book III, even though Katniss’s slow decline into total corruption is a warning tale, I still think that these books cater to our society’s taste for violence more than they condemn that taste.


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