Suzanne Collins tells us that The Hunger Games trilogy was inspired by twin causes in her life: the pain of living while her father fought in the Vietnam War, and the Classical story of Theseus and the Minotaur, which resonated deeply with her psyche. This makes sense. My first impression, however, was I was reading an episode of the TV reality series Survivor, cross-bred with Golding’s Lord of the Flies.
I was about 20 pages in when I rolled my eyes and thought, “Great. Not another dystopian novel.” I’m starting to miss fantasy and science fiction where we get a glimpse of a good future. Recently, I’ve read Gibson’s Neuromancer and Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl. I thought I’d just about had enough of icky post-apocalyptic futures, thank you very much. But I trudged on.
Imagine a future where a rich city-state (“The Capitol”) controls the thirteen districts that once comprised the United States. The story’s Heroine, sixteen-year-0ld Katniss, is from district twelve (formerly the Appalachian range), where the populace is forced to mine coal. A thirteenth district was obliterated by The Capitol in the years that led to its dominance.
As a form of punishment, the capitol puts every child between the ages of 12-18 into a lottery, where one boy and one girl from each district might be selected to compete in The Hunger Games. These games are really a death match between the 24 combattants; the last child standing is crowned the Victor. This is a form of punishment from the Capitol, to tell each district that they can, and will, do anything they like. The populace of each district are subjected to nonstop slave labor. The Capitol can, and will, do anything to dissentors–up to, and including, killing their children. Some premise, huh? You are sure to guess what happens: Katniss is ultimately selected to be the female champion from District Twelve.
So far, I don’t sound like I enjoyed the book much. Don’t get me wrong: I did. I liked the story, and the love interest with the male champion from Twelve (his name was Peeta) was just innocent enough to captivate me. Katniss’s wonder at the extravagance and excess of The Capitol was enjoyable, as well as the series of small victories that led her to be crowned Victor. (You didn’t think she’d actually lose, did you?)
Still, a few things detracted from the story. Katniss seems to go into times of desparation that pass “in a minute, or an hour, or a month.” Collins’s description of the heroine’s food was not-quite-erotic, full of “plump berries bursting juice into onto my eager tongue” and distracting. In general, thought, the writing was solid, if a bit melodramatic. Thematically, the novel seems to beat a tired drumskin: a plucky arrow-shootin’ girl makes good, and shows the whole country what she’s made of. It’s a good, but not a great, exemplar of this plot. Still, I admit, it’s a lot of fun.
I saw that some people compared it thematically to Macbeth. Yeah. Right. I recently read where author Jim Butcher said “[writing comic books] is to novel writing as monosodium glutamate is to classical opera.” By no means is The Hunger Games simply a comic book. Neither, I think, should it ever, ever, be misconstrued as on the same par with Macbeth.
I realize the third novel of The Hunger Games trilogy was just released. I have read it, and will review it soon. These things take time. For now, suffice it to say that the Hunger Games was an decent, if a bit imperfect, start to a good story. Soon, let you know what I think of the rest of the series.
Four of Five Stars.