Thursday, February 27, 2014

Book Review: The Hunger Games Trilogy

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The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins

The Hunger Games (2008)
Catching Fire (2009)
Mockingjay (2010)

Sometimes when there is a lot of “hype” around a book, for me that tends to have a reverse effect and put me off reading it – or at least make me put off reading it! (can only hope I got that pun right…)

The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins was one falling into that category for me. I’d seen it mentioned and praised a lot; however, the basic concept of the story did not appeal to me.

In a future dystopian totalitarian nation, from each of the twelve districts surrounding the capital, one boy and one girl in their teens are selected by lottery to participate in the "Hunger Games", a spectacular televised event taking place in a huge arena, where the participants will be forced to literally fight each other to the death – as only one will be allowed to survive in the end – while the rest of the nation is forced to watch.

Since the basic idea of life-and-death games does not attract me, I’ve not felt tempted to read this series until just recently. But one day I happened to come across them as library audio books (in Swedish), and decided on a whim to give them a go after all. (Or at least the first one.)

Coincidentally or not, this happened while the Olympics in Sochi were going on (I only watched the figure ice skating, but I did watch quite a lot of that) – and parallel with that, the uprising in Kiev, Ukraine. And so TV news flashes from Sochi vs Kiev came to be disturbingly – but also aptly – mixed up with my reading of this trilogy.

I say aptly, because I learn from all-knowing Wikipedia that besides Greek mythology and Roman gladiator games, what inspired Collins to write the story was her own experience of the unsettling absurdity in TV channel surfing between various so-called reality shows, and authentic footage from the war in Iraq. 

Three dystopic novels from the mid 1900’s that have come to be counted as modern classics also kept coming to mind for me during the reading of The Hunger Games. (It’s probably safe to assume that at some point, Suzanne Collins read those as well.)

George Orwell –  Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949)
Ray Bradbury – Farenheit 451 (1953)
William Golding – Lord of the Flies (1954)

In spite of the very grim outlook on human nature prevailing in The Hunger Games, I soon found myself (somewhat disturbingly!) drawn into the story and almost unable to put it down/turn it off. Checking my downloads of the books, I see that I listened to the whole trilogy (~36 hours playing time) in less than two weeks. (An advantage of audio books is that one can continue to listen both while resting and while doing routine things…)

Having finished the series, I really have to give Suzanne Collins credit for making the main characters and their reactions to all that happens “believable” in the midst of all the horrifying (and partly sci-fi) events.

I also think that in this book, it was absolutely the right choice to let the heroine be the narrator.

At the end of the first book, I was still only sort of half-impressed, and wondering how there could possibly be enough stuff left for two more books. But curious enough to go straight on to find out – and have to say I’m glad I did. Without going into details, I’ll just recommend that if you are going to read it, you really should be prepared to read the whole trilogy, not just the first book; as the following two add a lot of depth.

However, I must also say that this is one series that I don’t feel any wish at all to see acted out on film. (I understand the first two books have already been filmatised (?) cinematised, so I assume the third will be too.) To be quite honest, for one thing I don’t think I could stomach watching some of the scenes (I know I’m more sensitive to visual impressions) and for another, I suspect a film version might at the same time double the absurdity and take the edge off it. The thing with reading is that it gives you time to reflect (even as audio book, if you’re in control of the on/off button) – especially when the author makes the main characters do a bit of reflection from time to time as well. On film, everything gets compressed – you have to “swallow it whole”, without time to chew and digest, so to speak.

11 comments:

  1. I'd never heard of Farenheight 451 nor of dystopia (although its meaning was obvious) nor of filmatised. So I've learned three things so far. To be frank the whole concept of the trilogy sounds absolutely ghastly. I can imagine nightmares galore just thinking about the concept never mind reading the books.

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    1. Oops, perhaps "filmatise"' is Swenglish... We have the verb "filmatisera", so I may just have assumed... Should probably be "cinematise" in English? "make a film of or adopt so as to make into a film"

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    2. As for the concept of the hunger games being ghastly, I can only agree. Actually the only thing that makes the books bearable to read (just) is probably that the games are not made out (by the author or her main characters) to be anything but horrible. So it's really about trying to survive in an absolutely impossible situation. (Another parallel that could be drawn is WWII concentration camps.) I would not classify it as a "must read" for everyone or anyone, though. But I did find it better literature than I had expected it to be.

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    3. I think 'filmatise' is a wonderful word and I shall be using it from now on whenever I get the opportunity.

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  2. Monica, I feel exactly the same as you about books (or films) that receive a lot of hype. I still feel an unjustified pride in having started to read the Harry Potter books before they became so immensely popular over here, and long before the first one was made into a movie.

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    1. With Harry Potter I had a bit of the "hype" aversion as well at first. I did not read the first book until after three or four were out. What made me finally do so was really the very mixed opinions people expressed about them - especially since the books seemed to get criticism even from people who had not actually read them. And as it turned out, instead of agreeing with the criticism, I turned out loving them :) I guess it was similar reasons (and with HP in mind) that I decided to read the Hunger Games now. I don't really like to criticize books without actually having at least tried to read them myself to form my own opinion. With the Hunger Games I think it's unlikely I'll be rereading it for pleasure (like I've done with the HP series, several times) - but I don't regret reading it once.

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  3. not my type of reading either... i did not read the three from the distant past and will not read these either... i justt don't care for these types of books.. but here are millions that do... my friend took her teen grand children to see the movie Hunger games and thought she would hate it but like you she got caught up in it and said it was not as bad as she thought it would be....

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    1. Well I'm glad if the movie does manage to rise to the challenge without losing sight of the "point" in the process.

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  4. I wanted to like Hunger Games, but I didn't. I found the characters so one dimensional, so I didn't read the rest of the series. Glad you enjoyed it though, that's what makes reading so great, we each get something different from a book.

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    1. Actually Janet, after the first book I was still hesitating about it, and had I stopped there, I'd have been inclined to agree with you about the characters being one-dimensional. I also found the plot up to that point kind of predictable. But as it turned out, the next two books did add to the "whole" picture for me, so I'm glad I continued to read the rest.

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  5. I haven't read the books, but I did watch the movies.

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