Women as Writers 4: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins: Book One of the Hunger Games Trilogy

So I know this entry is hardly something you all expected. Yes, I’m still working on Tai-Pan and Faust, but this one was a special request by a close friend of mine who is a particularly big fan of the Hunger Games trilogy. I just hope I do justice to the book.

It’s an interesting experience, reading the book after watching the movie. I’ve only done it in this order a few times (with different books of course), and I’ve always found that it’s much harder for my imagination to picture the characters and settings without being influenced by the movie makers’ interpretations of the characters. Not that this is a bad thing; there’s less to worry about as a reader but I always like to challenge myself anyway and forge my own path. The other thing that usually comes up somewhere along the line is plot holes. And now that I’ve read the book, I can see what everyone was talking about when they say there are three HUUUUGE plot holes in the movie. Stuff that makes up a large part of how Katniss and Peeta act after coming out of the arena is simply left out of the movie, and changes the whole dynamic of the story. It’s a bit of a shame that the sections were omitted; don’t get me wrong there was already a fair bit of gore in the movie but that wasn’t so relevant to the plot as the omissions were. I won’t say what they were in case there are other people who haven’t yet read the books, but for those of you who know what I’m talking about I’m sure this makes more than enough sense.

Now, onto the book itself. Overall I thought the writing style was nicely clipped to match the fast-paced action that the book features so much of. In times of less activity, the writing, too, slowed down and it seemed almost as if as the reader you were given more time to sit down and watch the arena evolve. The smaller things were pointed out, and more time was taken on everything. This technique not only adds dynamism to the work but it also drags the reader into the storyline, providing the critical element of reader involvement.

The characters! This is exactly what I like to see in a work: characters who are fully fleshed out, and sit well in their roles alongside the others, even if they are only minor characters. As readers we travel alongside Katniss, and so our perceptions are somewhat filtered by her own views. However we are given lease to form our own opinions, because Katniss is such a sceptical and observant character and in acting this way encourages readers to do the same. The clipped writing style works well in presenting a plain and truthful account of how the characters act, and exposes their flaws clearly. It’s common knowledge amongst the world of authors and books in general that protagonists (or heroes) always need to have weaknesses. Otherwise the readers can’t take them seriously, and things are too easy. For Katniss, her weaknesses are her family, and her confused feelings for Peeta as well as wanting to keep her life. Later she gains more physical weaknesses. For Peeta, it’s his feelings for Katniss and his self-doubt. Even the Capitol has weaknesses, although not a character per se its weaknesses are still just as evident.

This is where we get to the dark and gritty side of the story. The theme. Even on the blurb it tells you that The Hunger Games is set in a dystopian version of the not-so-distant future, but that is no preparation for what you’ll find between the covers. Panem is a world that reeks of consumerism and modern politics (whatever that can be classified as), and the longer you read, the more disgusted you become with the Capitol and the way Panem functions. This theme cuts quite close to home, and its well worth noting that in the book it is mentioned that the Capitol is centred in the Appalacian ranges in America. This is of very little surprise, but what IS surprising is the way that there has been a clear segregation of the continent to create, effectively, twelve third- and second-class countries with only the Capitol to guide them. Is it just me, or is this far too familiar a concept?  

Collins’ descriptive bent does the book no disservices. It adds the colour and life that the plot needs in the face of the grim setting and circumstances. I didn’t read it aloud, but when read mentally the words just roll off the tongue, if you’ll forgive the overused cliché. Everything about the writing style works: it’s not flat, not sparse (except where necessary), and reminds me very much of a good chocolate cake. Every layer is cooked to perfection, the taste is sublime, and the glossy sheen of icing only makes you drool more. She also has a delicate way of pulling at the heartstrings of the reader, just when its most needed. This subtlety is not something that I commonly find, especially amongst other young adult fiction pieces. It’s to be admired and learnt from, and that’s exactly what I intend to do.

Overall The Hunger Games is a book that really pulls its reader into Katniss and Peeta’s world, and doesn’t let go until the final page. Saying that, the knowledge that there are two more books to read really means that it doesn’t let you go until the third book is over. The characters are real and relatable (or a pain in the rear, depending on who it is); the setting is perfectly primed to make readers think about the world that they themselves live in – a trademark of a well-written dystopian novel -; and although there is a lot of grit and gore, it’s necessary and it helps the characters to grow. Which is what it should do. Unfortunately, the parallels between Katniss and Peeta’s world and our own cut a little too close to home for me (especially in terms of the way the Tributes are forced to play political power games amongst themselves and with the Capitol and the people of Panem), but that may not be the case for others. Either way, it’s a weighty topic that has certainly been brought to the fore. And I would venture that it ought to be explored more, and really considered by readers.

I would definitely recommend The Hunger Games to everyone who hasn’t read it; not just because it’s now a blockbuster movie but because it is genuinely a good book with a lot of weighty things to say. And as an author-to-be, I’d definitely recommend that other authors might do well to take a leaf out of Collins’ book and see what they can learn.

That’s it from me for now, and stay tuned for my next review which will definitely be James Clavell’s Tai-Pan. As usual, I’d love to hear your thoughts on The Hunger Games and I’m even open to spoilers! Don’t be afraid to comment below, I love a good chat and I’m always looking for new recommendations for the bookshelf!

Don’t stop reading!



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