The Hunger Games - Suzanne Collins

Miranda's not been sleeping well recently, so I wanted some fairly easy reading, and I'd picked up the Hunger Games trilogy cheaply on the grounds that it'd actually had some pretty good reviews.

To me, it comes across somewhere between the film Battle Royale, and (for some reason) The Handmaid's Tale, although lacking the sheer bleak gore of the former, or the subtler paced atmosphere of the latter. I find the dystopic setting of the book difficult to believe, with such pointlessly unmotivated oppression and starvation, especially in the context of a society that does have extremely high technology available to it. There again, China's Cultural Revolution and North Korea's current state seem to be utterly pointless, and they happened anyway, so who am I to judge?

In summary, this is about a teenaged girl being forced to fight 23 other teenagers to the death. It's actually quite a tricky task, to make sure that the main character is likeable enough, and believable, while making sure that there's enough grit and that, well, the character does kill people. And it does it well...

A decent part of the book happens before the Games, setting the backdrop, giving us sympathy for the character, giving her hunting skills that come in useful during the Games, adversity to make us hate her society and show her strengths etc., all well-constructed. The transition to the games themselves highlight the reality TV aspect which is important later on, and then the games themselves... also well-constructed. There's plenty of death, it has a plausible feel, a range of characters, sympathetic and otherwise. Well put together, with a decent ending.

It's a good teenage, ahem, I mean 'young adult' book. The things in the book happen to teenagers, plot-wise I think it could only happen to teenagers, and well, the things that happen can be summarised as the classic teenager refrain, 'Oh, it's so unfair!'. Our protagonist is a mixture of empathetic and self-centered, with blindspots which would be incredibly irritating, but are justified by her being a teenager - they're like that!

The story isn't particularly subtle or deep. It's not massively depressing and gory (given the body count), and it's a pretty easy read. It's very well done, and both an effective self-contained story, and a clear set-up for the trilogy. I think Harry Potter managed to get popularity by fundamentally being magical escapism - any peril in the book isn't real. In comparison, in this book, lots of people do die, and it's a world you certainly don't want to live in. Fundamentally, it succeeds by telling a compelling story.

Posted 2012-12-09.