You know when you read a book and you just can’t put it down? The kind of book where you promise yourself you’ll stop reading the next chapter because you have work in the morning only to find you’ve just got 80 pages left and who says you need more than 3 hours sleep anyway? Every book in The Hunger Games trilogy seems to come under this category. If you haven’t read the book don’t read on: Just read the book and avoid any spoilers here!
Okay, so I must admit, I have to say ‘seems to come under this category’ as I watched the first film as a substitute for the first book. I know, I know (!), the book’s always better than the film and often I’d agree, but I just really wanted to find out what happened after watching the first installment. Who does she go for? What happens to everyone? Was it fake? Do they finally escape the Capitol? And where better to catch up on some reading than a country where its nice and hot, power cuts are a part of daily life and it’s probably not wise for a woman to go out on her own after 10pm? I will find a way of justifying it…
Another confession: Suzanne Collins didn’t convince me straight away. The opening chapters of the second book style wise seemed a little simplistic (what I get for continuing to read adolescent fiction) but I think the plot is incredible. So imaginative, and yet so down to earth at the same time. Like Pullman’s His Dark Materials, it’s this imaginative aspect that makes the book really special. And what is so imaginative about it I hear you cry? The way that the book plays with the readers moral beliefs, attempting to cast judgement only to recline back into a type of moral apathy. This I believe is what the Hunger Games and Game of Thrones has in common. By the third installment you have no idea who’s right, who’s wrong, or if there’s any such thing, or whether in the long run, there’s any point in even caring. I wasn’t sure I even liked Katniss, but then Collins doesn’t seem to suggest you should. When Peeta’s hijacked self in Book three refers to Katniss as a real ‘piece of work’ I was inclined to agree. Gale’s suggestion that the person she will choose will be dependent upon whether they help Katniss survive generally is insensitive but not false. Unlike Rowling’s Harry, who seems to become the sidekick in his own novel toward the end, there’s something about Katniss that keeps drawing you back in. She’s the character who wants to be innocent, wants to do the right thing, but ends up being a murderer all the same. Her environment condemns her to act the way she does, but then every character in the book seems to suffer from the same predicament. Add to this the fact that the only truly pure characters in the trilogy, Rue and Prim, die horrific deaths and you wonder what Collins is trying to say about humanity, or indeed, about what is required for survival.
Collins is certainly not the first to be so harsh toward her creations. Looking back at the ending of original children’s classics such as the Narnia series, there has always been a blood price to pay for supposed paradise. Yet Katniss doesn’t even get paradise. Far from it. She is a fragment of her former self, determined and committed, but no longer whole. Essentially alone and disillusioned, she returns to a poor substitute of a home, a barren wasteland, the place with the worst memories outside of the arena itself. Even the portrayal of the grief-stricken Katniss as a mother seems somewhat forced. Peeta wanted them, she tells us, but note Katniss takes no ownership of the decision. Everything society had to take from Katniss, it appears to have taken. I couldn’t help but finish and wonder what the point of it all was. Katniss did it for Prim, for District 12, for Gale, for Peeta. The first three are lost to her, the last can’t help but seem like a last resort. Was Gale correct, is Peeta just what Katniss needs to help her survive?
If nothing else convinces the younger generations to become politically active, then the Hunger Games might be just it. The trilogy seems to focus on one thing: ‘staying alive’, but insists that survival requires freedom and the biggest threat to this is long-term apathy. One amazing line from the book is that the Capitol gave the people food and entertainment and in return the people gave up their politics and power. By opening up the eyes of thousands of young readers to how difficult it truly is to make any difference outside of a democracy, how material possessions can buy silence and how easily the populace can be misled, I believe Collins is trying to send a strong message about twenty-first century society in general. The post apocalyptic Panem is terrifying because it all seems so possible. It all seems so inevitable too. If the characters in the present ultimately fail in their quest for paradise, and the protagonists of the future are still stuck within the same system under a different name, the responsibility for change falls squarely in the realm of ‘the Past’. Make no mistake, we are ‘the Past’. An excellent book which I couldn’t put down, as thought-provoking as it is entertaining.
May the odds be ever in your favour.