Again, I feel the need to stress the reason why I chose to avoid reading this literary phenomenon for so long was purely, and shamefully, down to snobbery. The Hunger Games has been in and out of headlines and triumphed within its niche audience and would certainly be considered much too low brow for serious literary commentary. But then surely we should not allow elitism to cloud our enjoyment of reading and indeed some of what we now consider to be the greatest literature of our time was originally sneered at as low-brow.
Like many, after viewing the film version, (which was pretty good though not a patch on the books) I really did become obsessed with the story. The trilogy is set in a post-apocalyptic, dystopian view of a potential future in America which is now known as Panem, where children are forced to fight to the death to pay for their ancestor’s crimes. We are shown a nation under the iron clad grip of the ruling power named ‘The Capitol’ which controls the remainder of the country which has been divided into twelve poverty stricken districts, who act as a work force to fuel the hedonistic lives of the capitol's populace while they themselves starve. The premise of the hunger games themselves is simple, each district sends a male and female ‘Tribute’ between the age of twelve and eighteen to fight to the death in a massive outdoor arena as part of this televised annual contest which serves to entertain the population of the capitol and instil terror into the districts to prevent any further rebellion.
This novel is a first person narrative from the perspective of our heroine, sixteen year old Katniss Everdeen who is from the poorest district, district 12. Katniss is a strong and compelling narrator, though is often completely frustrating due to her stunted emotional capacity. Due to the horrors of the world she has grown up in she buries her feeling deep down, so deep that she does not recognise them herself, she only openly loves her sister Primrose and there are no lengths that she won’t go to in order to protect her. Ever since her father's death she has become a talented hunter and has excellent control of the bow and arrow in order to prevent her family from starving and keep food on the table,this overwhelming responsibility means that aside from Prim she has little understanding of her own thoughts and feelings. In the second book, Catching Fire she tells another character ‘I’m an open book...Everybody seems to know my secrets before I know them myself’ this, I feel, is critical to understanding Katniss and is perhaps the thing that is most compelling about her. Due to this intimate view into our protagonist’s mind, reading these books is extremely easy. I am a person who hates beginning books, I am always impatient to be in the heart of the action, this book is perfect in this sense and is extremely readable and very accessible, and I guess this is the major benefit of Collins’ target market.
The first book in the series The Hunger Games, focuses primarily on Katniss’ hunger games experience and it raises questions on morality and identity. Indeed a central theme of the book is highlighted by Peeta Mellark, Katniss’ fellow tribute who says ‘I want to die as myself...I don’t want them to change me in there. Turn me into some kind of monster that I’m not...Only I keep wishing I could think of a way to...to show the capitol they don’t own me. That I’m more than a piece in their games’ though it takes Katniss a long time to understand this sentiment, this, I feel is intrinsic to the understanding of the trilogy. The characters search for identity and autonomy in a world where they are far from free and are heavily controlled by one propaganda machine or another. Catching Fire and Mockingjay, follow this theme in further depth and further explore this big brother society and the effects that years of brutal repression have on the people living in it.
The question of Katniss’ identity is addressed constantly throughout, with the deliciously intriguing love triangle of Katniss, Peeta and Katniss’ oldest friend and Gale Hawthorn, Peeta is seemingly honest, loyal and absolutely decent, strong, stable and absolutely brave whereas Gale is much darker, bitter and full of fury and hatred at the capitol’s tyrannical rule and absolutely fearless, and absolutely devoted to Katniss and her family—they seem to impersonate the duplicity of Katniss’ character and it’s a triangle that keeps you enraptured to the very last chapter.
The Hunger Games is a powerful and brutal take on the nature of humanity, it explores corruption, totalitarianism and death, grief and depression. It explores how far you can push a human’s limits and shake a person’s core through both physical and emotional torture before they are broken, beyond this it explores the task, and indeed questions, whether it is possible, to reconstruct a person once they have been broken.
I would urge anyone to read these books and experience it for themselves. To say I was addicted is an understatement, I was all consumed and it really did make me question my outlook on life, as geeky as that does sound. The Hunger Games is a much more raw and brutal young adult series that I have experienced before, Collins resists society’s expectation to have everything wrapped up with a neat bow to have everything put neatly in place. The beauty of this series is in the way in which it depicts the imperfection of human experience, it is raw and rough around the edges and the characters are all in their own way deeply flawed. It is deeply sentimental at times, but yet it is without the cheesy notions that Hollywood has us accustomed to and throughout the series we discover that little in life is black and white, right or wrong- we as readers have to come to terms with this as much as the characters do themselves.
I appreciate that this review might be a little rough around the edges as it is the first of its kind that I've done and I would really appreciate your honest and open feedback- I welcome any questions too!! I also would like to take any suggestions for future reviews!