Book Review: The Hunger Games (Hunger Games 1)

It is a long time since I’ve finished a book in a matter of days but with this I found I could not put it down. Every spare moment, after work, before work, on lunch break… how I stopped myself reading it on the drive home I do not know and I already know the story because I’ve seen the film at least twice. To my delight, the film – as good as it is – lacked some finer details making the book well worth the read.

When I first read a sample chapter about a year ago (chapter 1) I found the writing style minimalist and passionless, not very inspiring and I didn’t feel compelled to read more. But, fellow readers insisted I give it a go… so I did.

Once I got through chapter 2, I started to wonder whether this dry style was deliberate, whether it was part of Katniss’ coping mechanism in this bleak world. I wondered whether had she shown emotion within the text as she is writing it, she might have had a nervous breakdown; she is a very reserved character who keeps her emotions firmly in check – and most of the time for good reason. Besides which, the simplistic writing style works on the level that we impose our own emotions at the events of The Reaping. The horror we experience is not hers, it’s ours and it is conveyed in the fine detail she is recounting.

All concerns about the writing style for me disappeared when we reach Capitol. It becomes more lively. Katniss becomes more animated in switching between bemusement, disgust, shock at the wastefulness of energy and quantity of food. She gets a better idea of how this world works from the other side – and she does not like it. Still, the writing style is relatively simplistic but Collins carefully focuses on minutiae that in other novel might have bloated the text (Jean M. Auel I’m looking at you); here though it adds depth. We are about halfway through the book when we finally get the games underway, proving that the book is not just about the games, but about the concept of the games and their reason for being; it is hammered home how different Capitol is from the districts. It is to Collins’ credit that she has put a lot of thought into this aspect of the story when it would have been easy to rip off Battle Royale and throw in a few empty quotes about celebrity culture and reality TV to make it look meaningful.

Those things are there of course, and they’re not especially subtle, but they are used to superb effect. It is sobering that the only time inhabitants of Capitol humanise those from the districts is in the lead up to the Games, they build them up, create personas for them, watch them fall in love (for real or as a ploy for the cameras) and then delight as they massacre each other. The book also indicates something not shown in the film, the extent to which perhaps Capitol is not the utopia it appears (through the redhead girl known as an “Avox”).

The beginning of the Games is one of the tensest pieces of writing in the book as we are carried along in Katniss’ thoughts in a painful and agonising sixty seconds. We are there with her and we feel the adrenaline along with her every painful second of the Games. This is paced rather nicely with a good balance of fighting, recuperating, hunting, resting, hiding… you get the idea that Collins has given a lot of thought to the sort of issues that contestants in such a game might face. In the post-book interview, she talks about her father’s service in the USAF so this focus on survival skills comes from a military background – the book feels richer for it.

This comes highly recommended from me; the best book I have read this year so far.

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