Could you survive on your own, in the wild, with everyone out to make sure you don't live to see the morning?
In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. The Capitol is harsh and cruel and keeps the districts in line by forcing them all to send one boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen to participate in the annual Hunger Games, a fight to the death on live TV.
Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who lives alone with her mother and younger sister, regards it as a death sentence when she steps forward to take her sister’s place in the Games. But Katniss has been close to dead before—and survival, for her, is second nature. Without really meaning to, she becomes a contender.
If she is to win, she will have to start making choices that will weigh survival against humanity and life against love. From GoodReads.
I found the beginning of the novel quite slow going. I’m not a big fan of first person narrative, and it’s mostly due to books like this that devote far too much time making the same point, and making it as obviously as possible. Katniss is poor, dirt poor, and she lives in one of the poorest Districts of a post cataclysmic country. She’s the sole provider in her family, and has been since a very young age. All these are character aspects that should create feelings of sympathy at the very least in a reader but due to the execution of the plot I found quite tedious. I didn’t need to know that she’s never had a shower before to know that’s she’s underprivileged. I also didn’t need to see her marvel at the many wonders of its various nozzles, or at fancy silverware. It frustrated and bored me so much the first time that I gave up not long after she got on the train towards the Capitol.
What I would have liked more of was a history of how her world came to be. We are told that something happened, and an area surrounded by mountains was able to better protect itself and thus emerged the leader of America (now, for some reason, called Panem). But what was this ‘something’ that happened, and did it affect the rest of the world too? Obviously, as is usually the case when desperation and fear run rampant, people started fighting over resources and things got ugly. But I really wanted to know more about the Capitol, because you have got to respect someone that comes up with the idea of making children hack each other to death to teach them their place.
This was the concept that always intrigued me about the book, right from the very beginning of its popularity. I’m always intrigued by the concept of what happens when you stick a whole bunch of people, be it strangers or friends and family, in a situation that appears to be “life or death” and let shit happen. It is the best kind of character study you can create and it’s why movies like Saw (though I have never watched it) are so popular. Morals and ethics change so much when a person believes their life is in danger and people will often do very uncharacteristic or inexplicable things when their life is on the line.
Before I had even come close to reading this book I had been told time and time again about how revolutionary it was, how unique and amazing, but also how violent and graphic. While I fully admit that the concept of the Hunger Games is fascinating, I did not find it all that new and, in the end, not very graphic or violent at all.
I cannot help comparing The Hunger Games to William Golding’s Lord of the Flies in which, much like The Hunger Games, a group of early teens are stranded on an island and must fight to survive. While there may not be a murder hungry group of crazies glued to a TV screen to watch 24 teenagers kill each other, I found Lord of the Flies to be a much more haunting, violent novel. The depths of depravity to which those kids descend, and what they do to poor Piggy and the other outcasts far outweigh anything that happens in the Hunger Games.
The morals and ethics inside the Hunger Games are quite fascinating. Let’s forget for a moment that there’s outlandishly over the top ‘villains’ watching poor people kill each other for fun and betting on the contestants, and focus on what happens in the arena. There’s 24 kids, ranging from 12 to 17 years old, told that they’ve got to kill each other to get the chance to go back home. Years of watching the Games have conditioned these kids out of any instinct to resist or to collectively revolt and refuse to kill each other. They’re going to kill, and they’re going to do it either for the pride and glory, like the richer districts, or because it’s the only way to assure a lifetime of food for the poor districts.
Among those are some that refuse to kill, this time around it’s Katniss, Peeta, Rue and presumably “Fox Face”. Katniss is, obviously, the most developed character and a really great example of the interesting ethics in this novel. Katniss, as I mentioned before, became the breadwinner of her family at a very young age and her main source of income came from her ability to hunt the out of bounds forests surrounding her town. This gives her a distinct advantage over most of the other contestants, minus the ones that are supposedly trained to kill in secret. Not only is she excellent at providing her own food, but she’s got years of practise of hunting and killing prey. She goes in the arena determined not to kill unnecessarily, which of course is a good thing because society tends to prefer people who don’t like to kill other people.
While this is an admirable trait to want to go through life not killing people, it really began to grate on me after a while. The first people Katniss kills are the two girls that get stung by the Tracker Jackers. Katniss, if you ask her, will insist that she didn’t kill them; the stings did. Except that really doesn’t work for me. Yes, the girls died from being stung too many times by a poisonous wasp, but they got stung by those wasps because Katniss, knowing full well that people have died from the stings, and knowing that they are very vicious insects, cut the nest loose so that it fell at their feet. Katniss may have used a third party weapon to do the job, but she still pulled the trigger.
The next time Katniss kills a person, it’s the boy from District 1 that killed Rue. This time, Katniss is in immediate danger, and riding a wave of fury over him spearing Rue. While I wasn’t shocked by the act itself, having already seen the movie, I was quite surprised by Katniss’ reactions afterwards. Yes, she should be sad; death is upsetting, and being the person responsible for it even more so. But this is not the first person Katniss has killed, and if she hadn’t killed him, he would have killed her. Her level of grief seemed even more unnatural compared to the deaths of the animals she kills along the way. Yes, I’m a vegetarian, so I noticed this aspect more, but Katniss routinely hunts rabbits, deer and grooslings, all herbivores that have not provoked her in anyway. In a very short period of time, Katniss manages to hunt three grooslings before they’ve even had time to realise they’re being hunted, and also kills someone who has intentionally killed others, including a relatively defenceless twelve year old girl. The boy from District 1 was atleast 16 or 17 (nearly a legal adult), has deliberately sought out other contestants to kill them, speared a 12 year old girl who was already caught in a net and incapacitated and has chosen of his own free will, perhaps not to be in the Games, but atleast to be an aggressor rather than an evader. But sure, let’s be sad about his death while we munch on a juicy rabbit leg.
Overall, I was expecting The Hunger Games to be a lot more violent and graphic than it actually was not necessarily because I enjoy that, but because it was what I had been told again and again. If you get told that American Pyscho is a novel about a guy with a slight chemical imbalance, you’re destined to end up horrified. Similarly, going in expecting a lot of violence, I was a bit disappointed by the lack of it, especially when half the group is killed in the first ten minutes.
Once the story got going, or the Games actually started, I did start to really enjoy the story. I really enjoyed all the survival aspects of the story, with Katniss trying to evade the aggressors of the contest, and her foraging and yes, to a degree, the hunting. Katniss has an amazing ability and determination to adapt and survive in and out of the arena and I really wanted her to succeed just to see how she would continue to outsmart her competitors. I really liked her resourcefulness and ability to anticipate what her next move should be, but also anticipate and analyse the moves of those around her, including the Capitol.
There are some sweet moments in the novel, like Katniss and Rue’s interactions and alliance. It was nice to see that though Rue might be small lack any fighting skills, she was still able to be a strong contender in the race because she made up for it in other skills, especially when it comes to shadowing those that might help her, and her keen observation skills. I thought the District 11 bread was a nice touch, especially since obviously can’t get the reaction we got in the movie since it’s told from Katniss’ perspective.
Of the sweet moments, Katniss and Peeta’s relationship does not rank. I actually found their relationship quite tedious, mostly due to Katniss’ incredible naiveté about what was actually happening. Because it was so calculated on her side, I found it nigh on impossible to root for them, and I found the lie of their relationship quite sad. As such, I was rather glad that they didn’t end the book together, though I like that they’ve got to keep up the pretence, and I hope that they’ll atleast reunite on a much more even footing. Speaking of equal footing, I find it quite interesting that all of Katniss’ injuries sustained in the Games were completely healed, with not even a scar left from her burns or any hearing loss from her presumably ruptured ear drum, while poor Peeta has lost his leg and had it replaced with some kind of bionic prosthesis.
The ending seemed quite anti-climactic compared to the movie, especially because the plot slows right down again but I liked that it ended on such an ominous note compared to the movie which has an overwhelming sense of victory about it. I’m really looking forward to seeing the response of the Capitol, though technically I already know what happens in the rest of the series, because I really want to see how they take back control over the threat Katniss unintentionally represents, and for the Mockingjay pin to really take on the significance it was given in the movie, but not the book.