I bought the first of these books, The Hunger Games, on a Friday afternoon while in the city. Because of the speed with which I read these books, this is also a tale of the hole left in the market by the departure of large book stores in Australia during 2011. It is a sad fact of the post Borders world that there are now very few large book shops in Melbourne that are able to stock a diverse range of books and more than one copy of each on the shelves. I feel strange saying something like that about such a large company that evidently had an impact on small and niche book businesses, but I do think there was a place for larger book companies like Borders. Compounding the problem in the city was the closure last year of the wonderful Readers Feast which always stocked an interesting and diverse range of fiction and non fiction at a good price.
So after tracking down the book, I began reading it on the tram on my homeward journey that afternoon and didn’t stop reading until I had finished it at 2am the next morning. Holy snappen dooley, as my Dad would say.
I’ve not really thought too critically about these books yet, but I seriously enjoyed reading all of these three of them. It would probably take a re-read to give a sound judgement of how I appreciated each book for its separate qualities, but I was so desperate to find out what was going to happen, and so willingly propelled along by the cracking pace of the action and the great writing, that I consumed the whole trilogy in three days. (It was actually four days, one day I resent for having to return back to work. I mean, seriously, what the fuck was I thinking?)
The first book, The Hunger Games, started with an introduction to life in Panem. Being immersed early on in the books with the world that Katniss most loves, in the forest hunting with Gale, was a gentle way of introducing the world that would very quickly get far more frenetic, dangerous and complicated. I loved Katniss. I loved her strength, her vulnerability, her independence and her bravery. She was resourceful and resilient, yet was not so strong that she was immune to the terrible pressures and trials placed on her. Similarly, I loved Peeta for the balance he provided to Katniss. He was kind, well-intentioned, brave and forgiving. And I thought there was a real honesty in the relationship between these two (at least as revealed by Katniss) that wasn’t sappy or overdone but realistically for mature adolescents.
The horror of the world Collins created was again so terrifyingly possible. I’ve since described these books as something similar to the Tomorrow When the War Began series and The Handmaids Tale; a story of adolescents coming of age through terrible ordeals and the vision of a post-apocalyptic America that turns in on itself and creates a frighteningly modern totalitarianism. I have read that the author conceived of the idea for the books while channel surfing between a reality tv program and coverage of the Iraq War, resulting in a horrifying meld of concepts between war and reality television and it’s this vision that I found the most interesting and challenging in the books. I kept thinking while reading that it really isn’t that big a conceptual leap to consider that this situation could occur; that a government would have control over the population and force young people to compete for their own survival on compulsorily broadcast television. I’ve sometimes wondered what it must have felt like belonging to the Roman empire and sitting in the audience watching human do just this, fight one another to death (mostly just wondering if it would be as common place as it seems in the Life of Brian) and I think the most troubling thing is there is a significant part of the population, at least those in the Capitol, that find great pleasure in viewing this spectacle.
The other characters in the book I thought were well-rounded and likeable. The villains were bad, the good guys were good (although still nuanced) and there were a sufficient amount of in between gray characters to make things a bit more complicated. Gale was passionate and heroic, made tough by the realities of poverty and responsibility in opposition to Peeta’s soft town edge, Haymitch was dependable and canny yet emotionally stunted by his own experiences with the Hunger Games and Prim was young and vulnerable until she wasn’t anymore, with devastating consequences.
I really enjoyed these books and I am genuinely looking forward to rereading them. I’m also looking forward to seeing the movies and really must stop watching the trailer because it hasn’t changed yet and it’s not likely to do so soon. Great drama, fantastic action, a wonderfully portrayed dystopia and in the end she ended up with who she should have. All makes me pretty content really.
Currently reading: The Earthsea quintet by Ursula Le Guin (I’m not ready for the real world yet.)