The very premise of The Hunger Games
is flawed. It's comparable to making a cake with sour milk, which is to say that I'd much rather go hungry. Every year, Panem's Capitol rounds up twenty-four teenagers and forces them to fight to the death on live entertainment television until only one remains. For some reason entirely beyond me, they call them the Hunger Games. (Wouldn't the Brutal Bloodsport Gladiator Games be better? Sure, people get hungry over the course of the Games, but the point isn't really to starve your opponents to death.) The idea is that these Hunger Games keep Panem's 12 Districts and all its citizens in line.
Time-out: children killing children is bad, and enjoying children killing children is possibly worse, but I don't see how 24 deaths a year keep millions
of people in line. Apparently everyone lives in fear since their children might get selected as tributes; these people must not have a strong grasp of statistics. If there are a thousand children in one District (a ridiculously conservative estimate), the chance of getting picked is minimal. Even as the number of ballots per person increases, the the odds really aren't that bad. And if people were truly worried about the Hunger Games, why have there been no large-scale revolts before Katniss?
Some say that The Hunger Games
is based on the stories of Rome or Greece, but this analogy doesn't quite hold up to questioning. The gladiators were slaves and undesirables—it's not as if every citizen of Rome was worried about their children being selected. And in the story of Theseus and the Minotaur, the children were demanded not to keep the citizens in line, but as humiliation. Of course, not everyone in Panem worries about the Hunger Games; some find it an honour to be chosen (most often the career tributes). I don't think I quite understand their motivation, but bully for them. All the same, these Hunger Games seem like an incredibly ineffective way of keeping people in line—whatever happened to good old propaganda and a strong military presence?The Hunger Games
' setup bothers me so much that it's difficult to enjoy the rest of the spoiled cake, err, novel. Actually, it seems Suzanne Collins may have used more expired ingredients than just milk. In particular, character development is troubling. There are supposedly three 'main' characters in the trilogy: Katniss, Gale and Peeta. You really wouldn't know it from The Hunger Games
alone, though; Gale shows up at the start and appears in a flashback every few chapters, and that's it. It's not hard to figure out who Katniss will end up with in Mockingjay
given this shaky characterization on Collins' part.
Collins chooses first-person narration for The Hunger Games
. Its effectiveness depends entirely on whether you have any desire to know a teenage girl's mind—and I can't say that I do. Expect many sentence fragments and few words longer than three syllables. I'm not really sure whether future teenage girls actually
think like this, or whether Collins only thinks they do, but it certainly doesn't reach new intellectual heights. (Food for thought: I read The Hunger Games
right after David Foster Wallace's The Pale King
and was shocked at how boring and, well, short Collins' sentences were.) Then again, chances are that people aren't picking up The Hunger Games
for the writing. And if they are, they'll likely get annoyed the fifth (or tenth, or twentieth, or...) time someone makes a reference to odds being in their favour. We get it, Suzy.
Katniss' success in the Hunger Games depends largely on her ability to lie to and manipulate the audience. The idea is that tributes get gifts from their sponsors in The Hunger Games; Haymitch uses these gifts to 'guide' Katniss through the Games. Katniss' attempts at deriving a mathematical formula for these gifts (one kiss = one meal
) are pretty corny, and their romance wouldn't have fooled me for more than a minute had I been watching the Games in one of the Districts. Even the ending, which begins to address the reality of Katniss and Peeta's romantic situation, is rushed and comes altogether too quickly; by the time they discover the danger they're in, the book is over. Cliffhangers sell books but they don't provide much closure, meaning The Hunger Games
functions less as a standalone book than as one part of a trilogy. Realistically, The Hunger Games
needs to be a couple hundred pages longer—why not capture some of Catching Fire
's mood and themes and adapt them to fit the conclusion of The Hunger Games
? The way Collins has it, even though Katniss grows in stature and strength, her character does not change significantly.
Despite the book's obvious flaws, it's still a fun, easy read. There's really no doubt that Katniss will win the Games—both because the book has sequels and because it's written in that awful first-person narrative—but it's still interesting to see how she'll get there. Not an outstanding novel, but a decent start to an ultimately flawed trilogy.
Also, Team Peeta represent!