A review of the books: The Hunger Games, Catching Fire and Mockingjay
A quick update firstly – since the last time I posted on my blog, which was about 3 months ago – A LOT has changed… and I mean A LOT. I, for one, am no longer a London bumpkin living the peasant life in the city – I left my publishing job, moved back to the comforts of my hometown Southampton and got a new, *snazzier*, role in marketing in a public/non-profit institution (a university basically), which is what I’ve sort of wanted to do for a while now (always been drawn to the world of academia I suppose). Eventually, I think I might move into working for charities or international development in relation to women’s rights, such as human trafficking, slavery, prostitution, violence and abuse – the whole human rights area/politics sort of thing – but for now I am enjoying the perks of being a marketing line manager for a great university. The name of my blog is a bit redundant now but going to stick with it as I can’t think of anything else atm. I went to New York and Chicago a few months ago, around which I read the now renowned Hunger Games trilogy, popularised no doubt by the film franchise. I’ve been slow on the uptake of book reviews (I have read a lot more books than I have had the time to review due to crazy life admin these past few months) but I really wanted to review this trilogy because of my satisfaction, YET UTTER DISSATISFACTION.
I started reading the books after they’d been sitting on my bedside table for over a year (I stole them from my sister, naturally), and a week or so before I flew out to New York with my friend. I consumed the trilogy in the span of several days – finishing Mockingjay whilst lounging in the fancy apartment of a pilot in Chicago (who knew Air BnB could be so luxurious?). I’ll go straight into what I liked about the books, as this list is much shorter than what ultimately dissatisfied me about it. The thing that I liked about The Hunger Games series was the concept, which to be honest, isn’t saying much, as it’s a total rip-off of the lesser well-known Japanese book and subsequent movie, Battle Royale. Now this may seem surprising to some, but I have seen this movie, back when I was in the height of my tweens and my life goals revolved around watching movies rated 18 or over and eating Ready Salted crisps. The movie is pretty grim but I feel like I remember that I enjoyed it. Nonetheless, Suzanne Collins did a fair job of plagiarism and adapting it for the American/Western world. I like the concept because it provides a provocative platform for action. It works really well on preying on reader’s emotions through the dilemmas the characters face which throws all questions including moral, political and existential sensibilities into the ring. This however, remained or was dealt with at a very surface level. Collins had the opportunity to dig deeper, but because of her flat characters and basic plot line, such pertinent issues were placed on the periphery. Oh, and I liked Gale ❤ . And that’s pretty much ALL I liked about it.
Now moving onto the more important part of my rant/review – why the book left me feeling like I’d eaten a delicious meal, but not nearly enough of it, and thus feeling utterly miserable and somewhat murderous. When I get really involved in the characters and storyline of a book, I genuinely feel like I’ve experienced injustice at the hands of it or the author if there are character or plot inconsistencies or anything that just doesn’t ADD UP. And unfortunately, there were far too many in this trilogy. *MASSIVE SPOILER ALERT*
The first thing worth bearing in mind is that Suzanne Collins used to work and write for TV before, and this really comes through in the way The Hunger Games is written. For instance, each chapter ends on a cliffhanger, as would a TV episode, which pushes you to keep reading. So this style was ok and it helped me keep turning the page, but it wasn’t very subtle – it was quite crudely done. It was a bit jarring frankly. Which leads onto my main issue: considering that it’s become an international bestseller, the book feels like its been written by a 10 year old -_- . Again, this may allude to Collins’ background in scriptwriting for TV, and maybe that’s why the novels translate so well on screen, but literally the writing is so basic it’s tragic. I guess it does fall into YA, and I had wondered quite far from my usual literary reads and was perhaps expecting a little too much.
Another issue for me was the fact that it was written in first person. I didn’t initially mind this; I hadn’t read anything written in first person for a while and I thought Katniss’s POV made the whole thing more personal, but soon I came to realise it made everything rather aggravating. For instance, in many parts throughout the trilogy, Katniss would blank out, and then wake up in a hazy room, and a gazillion things would have happened in the interim of her being knocked out. Then she would be told how the story had unfolded around her by another character. This meant that you missed out a lot of meaty action that could have been part of the narrative. Oh yeh, and don’t forget the most annoying thing… because it’s written in first person, you know that she WON’T DIE ANYTIME SOON because she needs to make it to the end of the third book to tell the whole crummy story.
I feel if it were written in third person there would have been a lot more scope to flesh out the other characters too and the story as a whole; seeing it purely through Katniss’s perspective meant that it was hard to gage how you felt about other characters because she’s such a pessimistic character; it was difficult not to be jaded by her opinion. There’s no chance for objectivity or opportunity to understand what’s going on inside another character’s head. For instance, I just couldn’t fathom Peeta’s love for her. And over the course of three books, this became none the clearer. It was all a bit of a mess, considering Katniss had no idea how she felt about him; many times throughout the series she gives the impression that she is forcing herself to feel something for him, but then when she thinks she’s going to lose him, suddenly an overwhelming love for him seems to grip her. But then Gale receives a whipping from a Capitol police-officer type-person, and she instantly does a u-turn and is pretty much like “NOOO GALE I LOVE YOOO IT’S ALWAYS BEEN ME AND YOOOOO!”, and within about the span of another two seconds she goes back to being a total depresso, her mind flicking between Gale and Peeta.
The flitting about with the ‘love’ triangle was a bit annoying for me; as a reader, all I could gage from Lady Depresso is that she could care less about either of them. I’m not sure where her love for Peeta came from, considering she was adamant that she was pretending for the cameras for the sole aim of survival. At some point, she must have changed her mind, although this is never clear. Her indecisiveness sort of killed the whole thing for me really. It’s fine to have a love plot where all characters involved are a bit reserved about their feelings, but as a reader I want to be a cheerleader for the main romance. But in this instance, where I could not ever be sure if the main protagonist’s feelings were genuine or not, it’s hard to cheer or ‘ship’ any couple at all. I mean Gale was the obvious hottie and the one she had a connection with from their equal need to hunt to feed and support their families – so why did she make it so hard for him? And by far the WORST THING WAS THE RIDICULOUS OBSESSION WITH SAVING PEETA. This drove me nuts. Katniss and that F***ING LOAF OF BREAD. Throughout the story Katniss is adamant about the need to save Peeta and pay him back for chucking half a loaf of burnt bread at her when she was a kid and had just lost her father and was in desperate need of food. Considering she’d saved him about a 100 friggin’ times already from the first Hunger Games to being chucked in the ring a second time in Catching Fire, you’d think she’d repaid him enough!? But no! Her sole focus after saving Prim, is saving Peeta, which for me makes very little sense considering she isn’t even sure she likes the guy that much in the first place! Most of the time, she’s saving him from himself anyway, because he’s so bloody useless. But I liked him nonetheless because he was artistic, and I guess it made me relate to a younger version of myself who would sit in bed sketching away. Also, what’s with her sister, Prim? The reason Katniss ended up in The Hunger Games in the first place was because of her and yet she was such a peripheral character. I get it; it was unconditional love blah blah blah. *MASSIVE SPOILER AHEAD*. Prim dies anyway – so all that trouble wasn’t even worth it. And the ending of the trilogy is so MEH – I’m not even going to bother mentioning it.
To summarise, the concept of mixing reality TV with gruesome killing was an interesting one, but explored in a limited fashion in these novels. My mind could not get past the behavioural inconsistencies of some of the characters and the plot – which is supposed to have an evil baddy at its heart (whom we don’t really see much of) and a crazy war/rebellion going on (which we don’t get to see much of either), and a depressed girl leading a revolution she has no idea that she is leading.
Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ (feeling generous)