Review of The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

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I’d heard a lot about this book, so when I saw the trilogy on the book shelves, I decided to get it and see what all the fuss was about…

Post-apocalyptic America, now named Panem, is divided into Districts and ruled by the authoritarian Capitol who keep the downtrodden, hungry populace under control by working them extremely hard. To emphasise who’s in charge, once a year all teenagers between 13 and 18 have their names put forward for the Hunger Games. When her younger sister’s name comes up, tough huntress Katniss Everdeen volunteers to replace her, knowing it is probably a death sentence. There can only be one survivor. But Katniss has been surviving for most of her life…

hungergamesThe neat premise is based on the Greek habit of selecting young men and women as sacrificial tributes – and like these tributes, before the ultimate ceremony, the Hunger Games players are treated like celebrities. Given a team to dress them and offered food they could only dream of, they are trained and interviewed and every move and reaction they make is commented upon. Collins certainly points up the carnivorous aspect of modern-day fame as Katniss stumbles through this particular minefield. But it is all a preliminary to the Games themselves…

I took this book to read on a long train journey – an excellent choice, as it turned out. Because it has to be one of most compelling page-turners I’ve read this year. In first person viewpoint, Katniss’s experiences grabbed my attention from the start and pulled me into the book. It isn’t a demanding or difficult read – but then that isn’t what Collins set out to write.

Katniss is marked by having to become the provider for her family after her father’s sudden death, and Collins’ depiction of a character constantly driven by need was utterly convincing. She is wary, automatically suspicious and determined to do whatever it takes to be the one to survive. Even if it means learning to walk in high heels and clinging dresses. Even if it means appearing to be in love with the other District 12 candidate…

However, Katniss discovers it isn’t that easy. There are the other contestants – and the hard truth remains that in order to survive, they all have to die. Once the Games started, I had a strong idea how the story would go – after all I’ve been reading Fantasy for one or three years, now. This, after all, is a book designed for a less jaded readership than yours truly. But Collins confounded my expectations – and while the overall ending was, inevitably, not a stunning surprise, many of the events along the way were unexpected. This book is a masterclass in how to handle full-on action, by producing a range of different challenges for the protagonist – and give her some time to assimilate them, before moving on again.

No one has claimed this is Great Literature – but it is certainly beautifully judged as a piece of writing entertainment. And in amongst the adventure and drama, there are some telling comments about our celebrity culture targeted right at the audience who should be seriously considering what the media is offering them. For my money, again, Collins’ has the got the mix right. The message of the book is stark – if celebrity shows continue to pander to an audience’s basest instincts, then something like the Hunger Games is the result – right back to the Roman mob’s raw blood lust while watching gladiators kill each other. And when considering the likes of The Jeremy Kyle Show, the only difference between the Hunger Games and our present day attitude is our decision not to actually kill participants – we certainly have no compunction in watching other people emotionally eviscerated for our entertainment.

I thoroughly enjoyed this vividly written book and look forward to reading the sequel.
9/10

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