Suzanne Collins: The Hunger Games (2008)

I bought The Hunger Games long before even part II and III were out but never read it. Too much hype. Not that there is less of it now but I’d like to watch the movie and figured, I should read the book before. I finished it in barely two sittings and even spent one night dreaming of it.

I went through a few different phases while reading it and finally I had to admit that a lot of the problems I had with the book were entirely mine and resulted in some misconceptions. Sometimes we expect something from a book or a movie that isn’t there. I’m not the only one, I saw this reflected in a few of the reviews I’ve read so far. This isn’t a poetical fantasy story, nor a subtle YA coming-of-age novel. The Hunger Games is a dystopian adventure/action story. Following the logic of adventure and action movies and books, there isn’t a lot of introspection. Switching from Virginia Woolf’s world of characters with a rich inner life, I felt a bit lost at first but once I saw the book like a new take on an old theme, namely gladiators in a dystopian setting, I started to enjoy the ride.

A modern-day gladiator novel is pretty much what The Hunger Games is. When you’ve learned Latin in school you are familiar with the expression “Panem et Circenses” meaning “Bread and Games/Circuses”. The story plays in a distant future, in America, in the country of Panem. There are a lot of other elements taken from roman history: the Capitol, some of the names like Octavia, …

The 24 tributes of the 12 districts of Panem, 12 boys and 12 girls are sent into an arena where they fight against each other until there is only one survivor left. The games are not only shown on TV but they must be watched. The questions the book could have asked but only brushes is “Would you kill to survive?” and “How does it affect you to be forced to witness killing on a regular basis?” or “Are these killings murder?”.  The book can lead to this type of discussion but it doesn’t really look into those questions at all.

Katniss, the main character, volunteers in order to save her sister. She prays that her best friend Gale isn’t going to be sent in with her. Since there can only be one survivor it would mean she might have to kill her best friend. The boy chosen instead, Peeta, isn’t a much better choice as he saved her life once. She can only hope that either she or Peeta will be killed by someone else before the last fight.

The arena is a vast landscape with forests and lakes, bushes and caves. The game masters can change the weather, they can send wild animals, ice and storm, fire and frost. This adds to the difficulties. Only those who are skilled in all sorts of survival techniques, those who know how to hunt and hide will make it.

It is a quick read and I was captivated, not so much because I wanted to find out who will survive, no, there was no suspense in that department. It’s pretty clear from the start but it isn’t clear how they will survive. And I was interested to see whether Katniss would have to kill someone as well. And if and how it would affect her.

The Hunger Games is a page-turner, exploiting and re-inventing the gladiator theme, with some surprising ideas thrown in but I still have a few reservations.

Did there have to be a love story and did it have to play such an important role? I’m not going into details as that would be a major spoiler.

And the writing? That was a problem. I’m not a native English speaker and can be more tolerant occasionally but nothing could make me miss the fact that it’s not very well written. There is a constant use of present tense, hardly any subordinate clauses, a very limited vocabulary and a lot of repetition. I’d like to emphasize here that this isn’t typical for YA novels or dystopian novels. I’ve read several that were very well written.

As I haven’t read Battle Royale, I can’t compare but the violence in The Hunger Games is minor. Nothing very shocking. It’s more the thought that they are so easily ready to kill each other that is shocking.

I think, if you know what to expect, you will enjoy this novel as it is fast-paced, captivating and I personally liked the main characters. Just don’t expect anything poetical or introspective. The emphasis is on action not on ideas or feelings.

Will I read the next one? I have already started.

If you would like to read other reviews here is the link to Iris’ very interesting post. She has included a huge number of other reviews.

44 thoughts on “Suzanne Collins: The Hunger Games (2008)

  1. I liked the movie trailer and, like you, thought I should read the book before seeing the movie, but so far couldn’t bring myself to do it. I hate hype books, I don’t read YA and I don’t like Dystopian, so all this speaks against reading it for me.It sounds rather mindless, really, even though it might be a page turner.
    I find the name Panem for the country rather stupid, btw. What sort of a name is that?
    Still not sure whether to read it or not.

    • Panem? As an allusion to the Romans’ Brot und Spiele – Panem et Circenses. It’s a bit heavy, I agree but it’s not a subtle novel it’s about all sorts of other things.
      I have a feeling you wouldn’t like it.

      • Oh, I know that it is supposed to remind us of panis (or rather panem et circenses), but it is not a name I would give to a country. Actually, the only reason to read this book is because I already thought of a great title for my review, :). But is that a good enough reason?

        • All the references to Roman culture are a bit heavy-handed. I didn’t mind it but it’s not a great name.
          If it helps decide, it’s a very fast read. Could you not use the title without reading it and write about the reasons why you didn’t? (I don’t know the title…).

  2. Actually Iris makes a quite interesting point in her review of Mockingjay (to which I assume you will get as well!) in which she sees Peeta and Gale not as merely two points of a love triangle but *representing* two different philosophical orientations to the political structure of Panem. Therefore, Katniss’s choice of one or the other ultimately reflects her own position on that difference. Partially I think Iris may be imputing a more intelligent design to Collins’s writing than is actually there, but her analysis works, and it’s a good way to think about it. …which brings us to your criticism of the writing. When you have that much “action” I think you don’t need to have – e.g., subordinate clauses, to keep readers’ attention! :–) And the “lower level” of writing probably ensures a broader appeal. No, such writing isn’t typical for YA, but it’s not atypical either, and I am glad, I suppose, that there are both options for YA readers, given that I interpret positively anything that induces as many people as possible to read!

    • It’s funny, I think that quite a few of the reviews I read were better or more thoughtful than the books, still, I did enjoy it.
      Yes, you are right about the writing, it’s not necessary but it did get on my nerves occasionally.
      I think it’s great YA has a lot of readers but it’s also good to point out when a novel’s strength is great writing or – as in ths instance – it’s not.

      Spoiler alert
      I didn’t have a problem with the love triangle, it’s not something I’m as allergic to as many others, I found it disappointing that withouth Peeta’s interest they might not have won.
      Iris’ interpretation is indeed interesting. I will go on reading with that in mind. I didn’t read her other reviews as these are books that are easily spoilt.

  3. As I am not an expert on language, I cannot quite put it into words, but I did find that some of Collins’ style grated me.

    Like you, I missed introspection, and I had hoped Collins would take more of the opportunities to reflect on the questions she posits in the novel. I do feel that this was partly remedied in the later books (though I have to add that these are missing some of the pace of the first novel).

    I feel we mostly view this book in the same manner. I do feel the love story works out in the last book, as I started reading it more thematically, but I agree that especially the love triangle aspect felt a little forced at times.

    Will you read the second and third book in the series?

    And have you seen the movie? I did feel the movie was particularly well done.

    • Yeah, grated, is well said. It’s just so not poetical. And I noticed the flaws. I like noticing the writing but only for it’s positive aspects. But the a lot of it was so fast-paced, I didn’t pay attention anymore.
      It’s interesting that a lot can be read into these books and they generate interesting discussions. Insofar, it was very worthwhile to read it.
      The love story so far doesn’t convince me, less for the triangle, it’s not even a real triangle. I see two men in love with one girl but she doesn’t reciprocrate much. Maybe I don’t understand the triangle idea?
      I started the first already, I’m 100 pages into it and find it quite different. At first I thought I won’t go on reading but they have strange appeal.
      I haven’t seen the movie yet but I’m really in the mood now.

  4. I agree that the book would have been better without the love triangle, even though I understand that YA audiences eat that kind of thing up. I think it detracted from the larger story.

    I read the trilogy mostly because all of my friends were talking about it and I wanted to see what the hype was about. Overall I enjoyed them, even though I had a few issues as well. They’re a good fast-paced fun read. I did notice that the editing got a bit better in the second and third books than in the first.

    • Yes, that’s what they are, fun, fast-paced and they generate interesting discussions. I’m not that familiar with YA, but, it’s true probably, abou the love triangle, in series at least. I’ve read more stand-alones.
      I’m glad to hear the writing is getting better. I think I saw some weird repetitions as well.
      I wonder if that love trinagle is also in Battle Royale. I can’t imagine.

    • I’m still glad I read it and want to go on reading the next. I hope the movie is good. I want to watch it, I’m quite curious to see how they did certain things.
      Have you seen Battle Royale? I started watching the other day but it felt too depressing that moment.

  5. Ah, it’s good to read your review, Caroline. I’ve heard so much about this book, so I’m glad to get an opinion I trust. Your review is very fair as always, and gives a good sense of what to expect. It sounds as if the lack of introspection would irritate me, as would the writing. Generally if I want fast-paced excitement, I watch a movie – they just do it better. From books I expect something else, and sounds as if this would leave me still hungry at the end 🙂 Thanks for the review!

    • You are welcome. I don’t really see you read this. It isn’t surprising a book like this is turned into a movie, on the other hand “watching a movie” in your own head can be interesting as well. It’s a very different kind of reading.

  6. Thanks for the review Caroline. Popular books like this tempt me as I really like science fiction and dystopian novels. I think that your comments about the poor writing style will however dissuade me from this one.

    • I would love to read all of them, just to see how the world in their pages looks. There are many out there that may be much better.
      I’ve always done better with fantasy than science -fiction but these dystopian novels are somewhere inbetween.
      The problem here is, that compared to a lot of sci-fi, the writing is flat. It’s not bad to the extent of being trashy at all, but very simplistic. I suppose many of the readers this is aimed at would be able to gobble it down if the sentencs were more complex.
      My idea was to read a few firsts in series and then decide with which one to go one…
      The biggest negative point, for me, is the fact that it’s a series. But at least it was meant to be a series from the beginning.

    • Tony, that’s what I’ve heard. Unfortunately I don’t know anyone who has read both books and made a proper comparison. It’s always either or but they seem to be very similar.

  7. Like you I have a copy of this but have been saving it until the hype dies down. Alas, the hype in the UK is still going strong with the film out! I’m always interested in the sort of genre novels that really spark public imagination. What do they say about the world we live in and the fantasies we have about it? That’s the question I will be asking when I get around to reading this one. Very interesting indeed to read your thoughts!

    • You put the finger on something I didn’t write but think. Part of my interest in these books, although I do enjoy some a lot, is the discussion around them and I want to understand what people wre talking about. It’s fascinating that these books generate often so much more and some much more interesting conversations. Fascinating and sad as well.
      Imagine the same kind of intense debate for other types of fiction. I wonder if part of this isn’t – what we have mentioned before – the fact that these YA and dystopina, speculative fiction books have strong female main characters.
      I started to think that the hype isn’t going to die down any day soon. I’m sure the other two books will be turned into movies as well.

  8. You finally read it 🙂
    We have the same situation here, I have just finished reading a book that has been on my shelf for over 2 years and it turns out I love the book…wonder why I kept postponing it.

    Glad to know you like Hunger game. I can’t comment much on the book…as you know how I feel about the book 😉

    • I liked it better than expected. I think in the second and thrid part she moves away from the Battle Royale theme.
      I would love to read a review in which both books are compared.
      I’m sure withouth having read it that Battle Royale is better written.
      Are you not even going to watch the movie?
      I strated Battle Royale but wasn’t in the mood. I’ll watch it another day.

      • I don’t know about better written but BR is a translated book, the writing style might not represent the real book.

        I will watch the movie (probably) in DVD. Ah…BR movie is not that good, but people who have seen it without reading the book said it was good.

  9. Let’s face it, I’d better not read this.

    In your opinion, what age do you need to be to read it? (just anticipating a future daughter-question, since she’s already asked to read Twilight)

  10. Nice review, Caroline! Glad to know that you finally got around to reading ‘The Hunger Games’ and liked it. I have the books with me for ages now, but haven’t got around to reading them yet. It is interesting to know about ‘Battle Royale’. I read the description of the book at the Amazon link you have given. It makes me remember a movie with a similar theme called ‘The Condemned’. Hope you are enjoying the second volume of the series now. Happy Reading!

    • Thanks, Vishy, I hope you will get to it, sooner or later and we can compare impressions! I think Battle Royale is more complex but also more violent. I well advanced in part II now and it is quite different.

    • I saw that, (I have your blog in my google reader) but I didn’t read it because I was in the middle of finishing it.
      It’s interesting, some think, it’s getting better but I think the first was much faster-paced. I’ll see.

  11. I’ve only been peripherally aware of this book–I see them all in the supermarket on the weekends when I am shopping, but I hadn’t been tempted by them until I saw something on TV about the movie and it piqued my curiosity. I did break down and buy the paperback, but it is on my reading pile for some other time I think. I actually like thriller-ish sorts of stories and this one sounds unusual in the theme (even if there are flaws in the execution). Interesting take on it–your review actually even tempts me more–but good to know what I’m in for when I do pick it up.

    • It has the quality of a fast-paced thriller and you can even forget about the writing once you’re immersed in the story. I read this one in only two sittings but read the other here and there on the kindle. It’ sone of those books you can put aside and pick up and you are immediately in the story again. Not a bad thing.

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