branquignole: (scabior)
[personal profile] branquignole
I read The Hunger Games trilogy back in February, and though I was planning to make a post about it, I just never got around to it. My memories are now vague at best, but I just read The Girl Who Was On Fire (an anthology of essays exploring themes and characters in The Hunger Games) and Battle Royale, which is the August book over at bookdeyada and a dystopian novel with a premise very similar to that of The Hunger Games. Reading both of these spurred my motivation to type up an entry with what I still remember and the new thoughts with which the anthology and Battle Royale have provided me. (: And then, of course, there's the teaser trailer for The Hunger Games just come out, by which I am considerably underwhelmed to be honest, but let's start off with it anyway:




When I was doing a work placement in a bookstore in January, Mockingjay was just bound to come out in German. Everybody was in a flurry about it, and I unpacked boxes upon boxes of Die Tribute von Panem - Gefährliche Liebe (the title is stupid, but the German covers are gorgeous) and decorated Hunger Games themed displays. I had heard of The Hunger Games of course, but that was the first time I actually seriously considered reading the trilogy. I ordered the box set from amazon and since I was ill and didn't really have much else to do, I tore through all three books in just a few days. In retrospect, that might not have been the wisest decision because afterwards, I felt incredibly sick and depressed.

I didn't actually think the trilogy was that well-written. There was too much telling in my opinion, and even though I guess that some of that originates in the fact that Katniss has trouble comprehending herself and her environment and therefore cannot interpret everything right away, sentences like "I suddenly realize that I hate Haymitch" just make me go, "seriously?" It makes me feel as though the author thinks I'm dumb and won't get how much Katniss disapproves of Haymitch's behaviour in that very moment if it's not explicitly spelled out. The telling irked me because the things that the reader is told are already implicit in the text. There's no need to explain every action and reaction to me; they speak for themselves. On top of that, I have issues with first-person narrators, especially when the story is written in the present tense. That is not really meant to be criticism of Collins' writing though; I just have problems identifying with a first-person narrator, especially when he or she is as detached as Katniss is. I get that that detachment was probably intentional and also necessary for Katniss in order not to crack; it was well done. It didn't make it easy for me to delve into the books and Katniss' character though.

Although it was at first difficult to get into the first book, it really got me from the reaping onwards when Katniss sacrifices herself for her sister, which is something that hasn't happened in such a long time that it really sets Katniss apart from everybody else. What I also loved about Katniss was that she wasn't just brave and talented by default but by circumstance, and that her skill with the bow, for example, was something she had worked on.

The rest of the book just basically made me sick. The premise of The Hunger Games is brilliant (even though not unique): 24 tributes from the 12 districts of Panem have to fight to the death in an arena specifically designed for the purpose to keep the population from rising up against the government again, as the supposedly destroyed District 13 once did. But that's not all; the Hunger Games are considered entertainment by the inhabitants of the Capitol, and the tributes (basically all sentenced to death) are prettied up and interviewed for the benefit of the viewers. The one thing that was great about this was to see how Katniss's stylist, Cinna, operated to manipulate the masses and sponsors into supporting Katniss by turning her into the girl on fire. Cinna is amazing and one of my favourite characters from the books.

The Games themselves were bleak and gory, and if I hadn't been so captivated (and also bored because, let's face it, no matter how horrifying that stuff is, I read the books to be entertained), I probably would have put The Hunger Games down. I'm not really a sucker for graphic descriptions of fights to the death (yay for a vivid imagination...), and it was sometimes a bit too much. The absolute worst was Rue's death though, which reduced me to tears. It was the only time I cried, but I had a very very long cry because that was so relieving after all of the numbness and bleakness. ALL OF THE TEARS FOR RUE'S DEATH AND KATNISS'S SONG AND THE FLOWERS AND THE BREAD SENT BY DISTRICT 11 BECAUSE OMG IT'S SO SAD AND RUE WAS ONLY TWELVE AND AND HOW COULD YOU DO THAT TO ME SUZANNE COLLINS I HATE YOU D: I loved Rue so much, she was so small and clever and fierce, and even though I knew she probably wouldn't live, I wish she'd at least died a quicker death or something. Anyway... I also really loved Peeta, and the fake lovestory between Katniss and him. I always fall for the lying liars who lie, especially when they're fair-haired. So there, now you know.

My favourite book of the three was probably Catching Fire, though I find it hard to say that I ~enjoyed these books because what kind of person enjoys reading about people having to kill each other I... I don't really. Catching Fire was basically The Hunger Games all over again, just with a different cast of characters, and while that should have blunted the edges a little, I feel like the second book was actually worse than the first. First, there was the fact that victors from earlier Games had to go into the arena again. Imagine that, having escaped the arena and thinking you will never have to go through this kind of horrifying experience again, you are sent back into the Games, mostly with people you know. Mags, for instance, could have been my grandmother. Secondly, the Quarter Quell games included so many psychological and cruel twists that it was even harder for me to read, while at the same time I was marvelling at Collins' brilliance. I loved all of the characters; especially Finnick. He grew on me from the very beginning, and he was so very very precious to me. His background is so tragic, and his death in Mockingjay left me devastated. (Second time I cried. A lot.) Also, about that... I felt like there were a lot of unnecessary deaths in Mockingjay. I also felt like Mockingjay made the first two books a bit redundant. Catching Fire was such a great build-up, there was so much tension, an incredibly evil yet excellent cliffhanger what with Peeta having been abducted by the government... and then in Mockingjay, it all went poof.

This really really irked me. I felt like Mockingjay had so much potential, and what we got instead of action, instead of the revolution, was endless amounts of Katniss sleeping, with the events not being related to us until after they'd already taken place. I didn't think the book was bad per se, but it was a bit disappointing to me after I'd got my expectations up. And then there were of course the unnecessary deaths, including Finnick's and also Prim's. Prim's death was like a hit in the face; like saying, all that shit Katniss went through to protect her sister? Well, it's become redundant. It didn't have a purpose. There were plot elements I felt Collins handled extremely well though, especially when it comes to Peeta. His love for Katniss is the one thing I was always sure about, and then she took it and turned it around, twisted it into something ugly and left me feeling utterly betrayed. It's sick and amazing at the same time. Mockingjay also included my very favourite moment regarding the Katniss/Gale/Peeta love triangle, the moment where Katniss overhears the boys talking about whom she is going to choose, and Gale saying, "she's going to choose the one she can't survive without". I was so angry for Gale, but Katniss was too, and I think I might have actually squeed or whooped when she thought to herself that she didn't need any of the two to survive. Katniss is an awesome and independent heroine, and I'm glad she saw that for herself in that moment.

Okay, whew. I still had more to say about the trilogy than I would have thought. Most of these thoughts came back while I was reading The Girl Who Was On Fire, which contains some truly brilliant essays. I primarily bought the anthology because one of the essays is by Sarah Rees Brennan, but that wasn't by far the only one I enjoyed. I loved Team Katniss by Jennifer Lynn Barnes, which discusses exactly that with which I just closed, namely how people are picking Team Gale and Team Peeta, wondering whom Katniss is going to choose, without considering that she can very well stand on her own and is not exclusively defined by her romantic choices and has so much more going on than her love interests. Then there was Your Heart Is A Weapon The Size Of Your Fist by Mary Borsellino, which discusses the importance of love in The Hunger Games and that it is the most important weapon in the series and draws some interesting parallels to Nineteen Eighty-Four and V for Vendetta. To be honest, I enjoyed all of the essays a great deal (Smoke And Mirrors by Elizabeth M. Rees and Reality Hunger by Ned Vizzini - such great reads!), though Crime Of Fashion by Terri Clark was probably my favourite. So, so good. In it, Clark takes a closer look at how Cinna tweaks Katniss' (and Peeta's) outfits to influence the audience and/or make a political statement, and it's super interesting. I love Cinna and his work, and this essay does a great job of explaining it. 

I think I cried more while reading these essays than I did while reading the trilogy. The merest mention of Rue's death, the bread Katniss was sent by District 11, Peeta's torture or Prim's death made me get all teary-eyed. Seriously. I was sobbing over essays. I think I'm in quite a state right now, what with being ill and easily affected, and what with my just recently having read Battle Royal, which is even bleaker and more horrible than The Hunger Games.


The premise is very similar to Collins' (though Battle Royale was actually written before The Hunger Games). In the Republic of Greater East Asia which, just like Panem, is a totalitarian system, every year several classes are chosen for part of a ruthless Militarian program. They are sent to a secluded area (in this case, an island that has been evacuated for the purpose), each given a day pack with a designated weapon (in some cases, these are guns or sickles, in some, it's a fork) and have to kill each other - the friends they've been going to school with for years - until there is only one survivor left.

Every six hours, there is an announcement to list the dead, as well as the zones that are going to be forbidden from a certain time on. The space available to the students is continually shrinking, and an additional rule says that if there are no kills for more than 24 hours, all of the students are going to die. They all have to wear metal collars that, if taken off, will explode. If you are caught in a forbidden zone or if there are no kills, these collars will also explode.

I'd thought that The Hunger Games were hardcore and that if I'd managed to read them, Battle Royale wouldn't be much of a problem. God, I was so wrong. It's worse than the Hunger Games; it's bleaker, it's more graphic, and the Game seems to be even more pointless. Just like the Hunger Games, this Game is meant to keep the populace in check; to that end, about 2,000 students are chosen and killed every year (according to a rough calculation Shuya, the main character, does at some point at the beginning). In the beginning, there are 42 students, and the number decreases in a devastatingly short amount of time. Even more poignantly, this book explores how such extreme situations bring out the worst in some people, how different people react when faced with the choice to kill or be killed, and how some are actually willing to play the game, while others go mad (or both really). What's probably worst is that Takami employs frequent POV shifts, so that the deaths are usually told from the victim's perspective. There is one main POV though, that of Shuya Nanahara, who teams up with Noriko because she's the girl his best friend (who is killed right at the beginning, before the game even starts, by one of supervisor Sakamochi's soldiers) had a crush on. Noriko is wounded, so they decide to hide, and after Shuya has to kill one of his classmates gone crazy, they team up with Shogo, who is a thuggish transfer student and turns out to be one of last year's victors. Shogo promises them that he has an escape plan, and after overcoming their initial distrust, they become friends, protect each other etc, even though Shogo might be lying and planning to kill them in the end. But I don't know, I always trusted Shogo and this hope of at least the three of them escaping the horror of the game in the end is what sustained me throughout the book and throughout the many, many horrible deaths.

(I'm becoming a bit lazy here. I'm just going to copy and paste part of one of my comments from the bookdeyada discussion.)

In that regard, what I thought was really, really interesting was how Takami played on readers' expectations using POV. Most of the book is told from Shuya's POV, who is undoubtedly the main character. This kind of lulled me into a (false) sense of security because I thought, no matter what happens, the main character has to survive. The character whose POV is employed most often, who carries the plot, just cannot die. This is why you know that when Shuya is shot, he's going to be saved; this is why you know that when Katniss threatens to commit suicide, somebody is going to intervene. It's just a basic assumption: this is the main character, he or she is not going to die.

I have to admit that I sometimes thought one of the trio would die, but even though I might have considered the vague possibility of Shuya dying (what were his odds, after all?), I was pretty sure it was going to be Shogo (which turned out to be true) or maybe Noriko (in order to explore Shuya's reactions etc), but not Shuya. I never seriously thought it could be him. After building this friendship between Shuya, Noriko and Shogo, after ensuring I trusted Shogo to save these two, it felt like he twisted a knife in my chest by having Shogo kill Shuya and Noriko to save his own hide. He did this so well that I actually believed him, so much so that this belief managed to override my firm conviction that the main character from whose POV the book was told was not going to die. I felt incredibly betrayed and almost couldn't believe it when it turned out to be a ruse. I think this was because Takami had employed POV shifts so frequently that switching to Shogo's POV at the end was not utterly unexpected and that I wouldn't put it past him to kill off his main character and with him his POV (to add to the overall bleakness and hopelessness) because I knew he could do without him, having proven this by telling portions of the book from other POVs. What Takami did there was brilliant, but it shocked me and made me feel awful. It was like everything - the 600+ pages ordeal - had been in vain. Yes, it demonstrated how ruthless people could be when forced to choose between life and death, but it also makes the energy you invested in reading this book, in the characters, go out, so that in the end, you just go numb and think, this can't be it. This is not the way you want a book to end.

Fortunately, it turns out Shogo tricked the government into thinking that he killed Noriko and Shuya and they actually survive (even though Shogo does not, to my sorrow), and then flee the country. They are only two teenagers against the rest of the world, so I'm glad Takami didn't have them attempt to stop the Game, but it also makes the book more disturbing: the smallest amount of people might be able to escape the system, but everybody else is still caught in it, and no way out. That is what Battle Royale is. Fucking disturbing.
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