The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

January 5, 2010

Read by Carolyn McCormick

Scholastic Audiobooks, 2008

Finished: January 3, 2010

Source: book blog

Genre: dystopic YA survival novel

On the Scales: middleweight, heavy hitter

I listened to this with Der Mann over the holidays.  We were riveted.  Sometimes a particular reader can make a good book excellent by crystalizing awkward phrases, imbuing cheesy melodrama with sincerity, smoothing a limping pace.  It doesn’t even have to be the greatest reader, just one who has the right feel for the book.  So I’m left not knowing for sure whether The Hunger Games is as great as I think it was, but . . . probably.

If my guess is right, Suzanne Collins first asked herself the very good question, “What did it feel like to be a tribute from a conquered land, arriving in Rome to alleviate the boredom and plump the egos of a bloodthirsty ruling class?”  Then she brilliantly transferred the whole thought experiment to a dystopic future North America, where instead of the late Roman Empire at its corrupt peak, we find the corrupt media / political empire of Panem.

The story isn’t about Panem, which to the desperately poor residents of the 12 districts is only as real as the extravaganza known as the Hunger Games.  (The Games have been going on for several generations–since the last time one of the districts revolted against the capital.)  It is about what daily life has been like for Katniss Everdeen, poacher, and how that affects her stint as a tribute.

The Hunger Games are reality TV taken to its logical extreme.  Every year, 24 teenaged tributes are chosen by lot to compete (and in 23 cases out of 24 die) in an engineered wilderness. As a humiliation a lurking under an honor, and a threat lurking under a reward, the Games are required viewing for the residents of the districts.  They are the raison d’etre for a bevy of stylists, technicians, gamblers, commentators and rabid fans in the capital.  Like everything else in the life of a subject Panemite, they are subtly rigged.

If you want to take it as a social issues novel, you can.  Say it’s about the objectification of suffering by a juggernaut entertainment industry–and the callous sense of entitlement the industry breeds in those it entertains.  It reminds me of M.T Andersen’s Feed that way.  Feed was both funnier (the saving grace of nightmare dystopias–Brave New World, for example), and crueler than this book.  That is because at its honest heart, The Hunger Games is a yarn.

It’s what I love about it.  Katniss makes a great main character.  She’s herself, not a prism for an idea; logical without being cold; strong without being a plucky feminist cliché; aware of the injustice of her society without being a prig or a martyr (well, a little bit of a martyr).  She’s also pretty dim about A GLARING ASPECT of her own emotions, but that’s a tried-and-true quality of main characters in yarns.

The story is like that all over.  It’s not wildly original, and yet it goes right all the places it could go wrong.  Collins gives us intriguing side characters (Cina, the baker, Hamish) when stock characters would suffice.  Her descriptive details are surprising where they could be conventional.  She takes care to give us the right word, the introspective moment, the unexpected image.  Lesser authors would give in to the temptation to linger over the flash-backs to district 12, but she keeps up the pace.

It’s almost a given with a survival novel, but I was a little disappointed by the ending. There were several ways it could go, and Collins took the bittersweet route.  I wanted a bigger bang.  Something less kindly.  I was also just a little skeptical of the hunting descriptions, but maybe I don’t really need to know if Katniss’ performance with the bow was realistic, or how she made her snares.

My only objection to the reading was the accent used for the residents of the capital, who sounded “silly” to the residents of Appalachian district twelve.  By her description, I think Collins was going for a sort of ditzy upspeak.  Ms. McCormick whipped up a strange mixture of chi-chi Manhattanite and Brit.  The American convention of English accents–without even differentiating between kinds of English accents–all being unspeakably uppity and effeminate has always irritated me.  What I really would have loved is to hear Katniss and Peeta with a bit of an Appalachian twang.  It’s a minor gripe.

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3 Responses to “The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins”

  1. Jenny said

    Have you read the sequel yet? It’s not as good (I think) but it definitely ends with the kind of BANG you may have been after in this one.

    Hooray for you getting a blog, btw. I’m really enjoying your reviews!

  2. trapunto said

    Thanks! I haven’t read the sequel, but I’m on the library queue.

  3. […] 31, 2010 sequel to The Hunger Games Read by Carolyn McCormick Scholastic audiobooks, 2009 Finished: late march 2010 Source: the aether […]

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