Monday, 23 April 2012

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Ladies and gentlemen, I proudly present humanity.
Well, proudly might be precisely the wrong word to use here, but there you have it, The Hunger Games is a bold and downright wounding depiction of what human society is. The fiction just makes it possible to have some kind of fun while taking it all in. I read up to the 8th chapter of Suzanne Collins' book before I went to the film première and then read the rest as fast as I could. I'll start by stating that the film is worth on its own as a dystopian future based story. The characters are believable and you can't help relating with some and hating others with every cell in your body. Anyone who has heard about it will already know that Jennifer Lawrence was awesome playing Katniss, so I'll just add that the rest of the cast was at least as good. Of note are Stanley Tucci and Elizabeth Banks who, with the help of an amazing production, went above and beyond to become the horrible representatives of the dumb consumer TV-educated population.
Now to talk about the plot I'll essentially report to the book, because as usual its thicker and better developed there than it could possibly be in little more than two hours of film. Suzanne starts by presenting Katniss, the character that the reader will follow throughout the story, seeing that it is told always from her point of view. The reader knows what she knows, when she finds it out which adds to the overall credibility of the storytelling. The fact that the author was so effective creating a teenager Katniss means that I often felt like I was way ahead of her in terms of understanding the workings of her own world, but this is in itself another compliment to Suzanne Collins. The story then grows towards presenting her family, neighbours, district and the whole of Panem. This is a country that, after a ravaging war, has lived almost 75 years under an authoritarian government centralized in one of its regions, the Capitol. The rest of the country is divided in twelve districts, distinct in their purpose (for example 12 is where coal is mined, 11 is where most of the food is grown, etc.) and kept separated with no communication so that each district's people have little knowledge of what goes on in others. The population is kept under control by the usual measures but also by an annual event that reminds everyone of how far the Capitol will go to keep its grip on power, the Hunger Games. To this effect, two children of each of the twelve districts are picked (or offer themselves) and taken to an arena where they are supposed to fight for survival until there is only one alive. This victor becomes one of the richest people in his district and a mentor to the next tribute children in the games to come.
If this is a good starting point and defines a typical dystopian young adult book, the skill of the author and the things she inserts into the plot and the descriptions of the events around this teenager makes this a good read for anyone far beyond early adulthood. This world is truly believable, the politics, the social interactions, the personal expectations, the feelings, everything seems real and this sensation grows towards the end of the story, in the third book.

In Catching Fire, the second book in the series, the reader is shown the extent of the Capitol's power but also more detail about how life is in other districts and, as one expected ever since learning about Panem, how likely a revolution is. After The Hunger Games, I was a bit tired of being inside the mind of a teenage girl, and one who up to now has lived in such a closed world she is still childish at times. But actually this is because the author was so good at creating a teenager in a dystopian world, avoiding those unbelievably mature decisions or  premeditated heroic deeds out of nowhere the so typically spoil these stories for me. This book has a different pace and though some parts are surprisingly similar to the first one, it ends up being a means to let the reader know more about the overall situation but also to let the characters grow and their relationships to develop and even to bring some new important people to the picture. It's as well written as the first one so if you liked The Hunger Games you won't be in for a big let down and the cliffhanger had me pick up the next book right away.

Finally to speak of Mockingjay, the grand finale. This was for me, undoubtedly, the best book in the series, not because it ties up loose ends, not because of the ending itself, but because Suzanne Collins perfected her writing and the way she led the story allowed her to create moments when you can't stop reading, you almost can't breath, your skin has goosebumps, your heart races but you just have to keep reading. It took me two nearly sleepless nights to finish Mokingjay. I believe that if I didn't have to go to work I'd have skipped sleeping all together to keep on reading. This is a book (and avoid these SPOILERS if you haven't read it) where you are presented to the true hardship of being part of a revolution and waging a war against a system like this. People die, decisions that lead to murder are made, friends die, people are manipulated, manoeuvres to achieve power are intermingled with the revolution effort. Yes, reading about people fighting against the authoritarian government felt good. But what felt amazing was how I suffered through it with Katniss. Because I'm sick and tired of storytelling where revolutions are shown as a soft breeze that blows the pollution away. War is bad either way, even when its purpose is good, even if you are fighting for basic rights, for freedom, for lives, the war will be bad. And even when surrounded by the very people who stemmed a revolution, one should always remember that one of them might be waiting to replace the leader instead of replacing the system and might use everything and everyone he can in his own game. Again I should compliment the author on the rest of the characters. People in this story seem real, they sometimes do what you expect, other times surprise you completely, some are more intuitive, others are stupid and others yet are downright mad. As a last note, and because this is presented as a young adult book, I have to make a reference to the romance. Yes, in the middle of this, just as in real life, there is romance and yes, it develops as the story goes right up to the very end but it is by no means the main focus of the storytelling or even the drive behind the events as one might be used to in other books referred to as young adult literature.

From The Hunger Games to Mockingjay, Suzanne Collins reminds us that the world is a board, that politics are chess, that pawns are sacrificed, people are really knocked over in plays for power but that in the end, victory is possible and some fights might be needed to transform society into a better place for us.