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the Hunger Games triology

Sep
03

(thoughts to get out of my head because I don’t presently have anyone to talk about four year old books aimed at fourteens year old girls. This will be random and disjointed. Also, I guess, spoilers?)

Grabbed the first book since it was $2 on whatever day the DVD came out. I’d thought about getting it before, the sale got me to actually do it. Read thru it half on Friday night, half late Saturday afternoon, liked it so much that I downloaded the second book right away. I didn’t really intend to start reading Catching Fire, but got sucked in when other things weren’t working right and zoomed thru it by midnight. Wasn’t as high on the second book, but there was no way I could leave the characters where they were, bought the third book and spent the rest of the early hours alternating between trying to sleep and reading just a few more chapters. I believe I finished up around 4:30am, and was dead to the world a few minutes. (And I’ll be dead tired tomorrow, but that’s not interesting.) that’s something like 750 pages in 14 hours. I read fast, but it’s an amazingly quick read for one that so gets stuck in your head.

The Hunger Games is the most satisfying of the three. I haven’t been interested enough to look around yet to see if it was intended to be the first of a trilogy, but it definitely stood more on it’s own the other two. There is no doubt there’s a story about the great World waiting to be told, but the story of Katniss trip to the Hunger Games is told in full. The main characters of the first book (friends, enemies, and those who can’t clearly be put on either side) are fully formed and comprehensible. Many of the new characters in the second book are enigmas, abruptly changing personalities and motivations in ways which are never fully explained until the third book. Part of it is Katniss being strangely oblivious to a conspiracy around and for her, which seems so unlike how she acted in the first book. The reader is way ahead of the main character for the last fourth of the book.

(I have to say I was on equal footing with Katniss with the end of the second book’s battle; neither of seemed to know exactly what happened. I understand what she did, that was telegraphed enough, but I have no idea if this was meant to be the actual plan all along and she luckily figured it out without being told, or if the actual secret plan fell apart and she bailed every out, or even who was in on the plan. It was supposed to be chaotic moment and came across as one, but one tough to put back together after the fact.)

The style of writing was a really interesting choice. First person, in a past tense, but definitely not narrating events. It’s an english teacher’s nightmare, something you’re very well warned not to do. (This does not stop me from doing it all the time, but I’m horrible.) It’s also perfectly the right perspective for Katniss; taking in all that’s around here, but only from a safe detached distance where emotions can not get to her. She observes how normal people react and can camouflage herself as one if required, but separates herself from her own to survive, and the perspective keeps that distance front and center at all times.

The first book feels like it’s about survival and trust. The second book feels more about totalitarianism, rebellion, and maybe the media’s ability for manipulation. Prior to these, the last book I read was Nothing to Envy, a book about ordinary North Koreans, their lives in that country, and their escape and attempt to assimilate into South Korean life. Science Fiction (and Fantasy) worlds often hing on the reader suspending disbelief on the world being actually able to exist in the situations needed by the writer. There were no such problems with Panem; after reading about actual North Koreans being forced into near starvation by an unresponsive government and skittering the laws of the land to survive, the conditions in Section 12 seemed entirely realistic. The World felt authentic, even the reality show like hype for the Hunger Games, for the first book and a half. The battleground for the second book felt something a bit over the top, but was meant to be that way. The final battleground was meant to be the same way, but a lot of it (and the plot) came as too gimmicky to be real. The Capitol has in possession technology which allows it to make some amazing Hunger Games equipment, but nothing else.

I had problems with the last part of the book, where many plot contrivances were explained away as planned plot contrivances by the Section 13 president to crack Katniss, allowing the characters to note how nonsensical decisions are being made but still go along with them, but it still feels easier than it should be. One of the last major death scenes is set up fairly by earlier scenes, fits with the increasing secondary conspiracy plot in that third book, brings the trilogy full circle and packs an emotional wallop, but feels so cheap. (And also seems to require both immense luck for Katniss to stumble upon the right location at the right time when things have gone so completely off the rails, and either more luck or immensely bad planning for the other character to be present.)

Maybe my problem is just the third book being so disheartening. The new hope turns progressively to be no better than what they’re trying to overthrow (a point the book starts screaming near the end), the total loss of life is immense (the sustainability of the world comes into question by the end), but the utter destruction of the characters is just wrenching. The main characters made it out of book one and into book two in okay shape, maybe even stronger for having survived and won. Those same characters are barely functioning wrecks for most of book three; “Mockingjay” is most clearly about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and the effect of war on those who survive it. The first book suggests everything might turn out okay (maybe a bit in self-deception), the last makes it clear that these people will never be the same, never be completely unbroken. And that’s before the ending turns into an army platoon movie, with known and unknown characters dying in front of friends unable to help, with mentions of minor characters suffering horrific deaths, with major characters sacrificing their lives so lead characters can live a few moments longer, all while knowing they might just be taking power from one awful group and giving it to another group showing the same signs. Mockingjay goes to a very dark place, then it has an execution scene, followed by an extended bit about the main character trying to figure a way she might be able to commit suicide without being stopped. Most of the actual denouement – the part where we might find out if this all changed the great World at all – happens off page and is only glossed over. Katniss gets the happiest possible ending left given the circumstances – she finds her will to survive again – but it feels like like the mood has just changed from a negative 10 to a negative 6; it’s still a pretty negative place to be.

(And maybe that’s the point of the book, and maybe you just shouldn’t read the end of the book at 4:30 am, and maybe you shouldn’t read the the third book when you’ll have nothing to distract you from thinking about it the next day. Your experiences may differ.)

Glad I read Hunger Games, and all three books. I easily recommend Hunger Games without reservation, warn you that the plot turn you’re dying to see after the first third of Catching Fire don’t really get going until Mockingjay, and you’re not so happy you wished for them to happen by the time you’ve got to them. I don’t suppose I’ll see the movie. I rarely watch movies (I dunno why), but more so the strong sentiment of the book itself. The book strongly asserts those who watch the children of the Hunger Games kill each other are utterly barbaric, so it’s hard to go watch a movie where the idea, even a little bit, is to be entertained by watching the Hunger Games kill each other. It feels like betraying the characters and ideas of the book to actually see the movie.

At any rate, I am happy I’ll have these characters and stories rattling around in my head for a while.

One Response to the Hunger Games triology

  1. Thank you for sharing your thoughts about this trilogy. I have been hearing a lot about it.
    I found your comment about the times when you read the three books and how finishing when you did made a difference, very interesting. I wonder if the experience is also that much different depending on the age at which the books are read.
    I enjoyed reading your review a lot.