Collins, Suzanne, The Hunger Games, Scholastic, 2009
I was seriously thinking of passing on writing a review about Suzanne Collins‘ The Hunger Games. My feelings about the book were so extreme and contradictory that I had some difficulty coming to terms with them. Frankly, when you think about it, the story line is repulsive. It’s a cross between Roman gladiator fights in which the participants in the arena are teenagers who fight to the death in games that are a vehicle of supreme repression of human spirit and a television reality show in which the audience delights in children ripping themselves apart with the collusion of the producers of the show. The rules of the game make any thought of kindness, of kinship, of friendship, or of solidarity a dreadful risk lest it be as a strategy to gain the deadly upper hand.
No doubt it is this extreme situation that makes us identify so strongly with the main protagonist, Katniss, in her fight against oppression. I say fight against oppression, but in reality, despite her being a natural rebel, her fight in many ways is limited to a desperate attempt to survive. Such are the odds against her, I imagine you saying. And you’d no doubt be right. I suppose her role as a rebel will evolve and grow in the remaining two books which I have yet to read.
Having said that, at no time, as a reader, did I find the story repulsive. At no time was I so shocked that I put the book down in disgust. On the contrary. I was totally captivated by the story from the outset and greatly enjoyed reading it. Does that make me akin to the blood-thirsty TV spectators of the Games? In my defence and that of most readers, I imagine, let it be said that I sided with the rebel not the Game organisers or the authorities. When we reached the death of the youngest competitor that Katniss had befriended despite the cut-throat atmosphere of the Games I broke down and cried as I imagine did many others, cued in by both the organisers of the Games and the author. And as for Katniss, there was no relief for me as a reader in reaching the end of the story with her as the survivor and triumphant winner. The story left me feeling somewhat estranged from myself and the world around me. On reflexion, my feelings were akin to those I get on the rare occasions when I watch a TV programme about a subject that deeply disturbs me. I feel both invaded and violated in some way. I doubt if I will be able to allay that feeling by reading on, but read on I certainly will.
I went back and re-read the beginning in the cool light of dawn, more as a writer than a reader, trying to ascertain if the language used contributed to the impact of the story. I was struck by the low-key nature of the language used. No fancy stuff, just the words the story needed. The conclusion I reached was that the skill of the storyteller, in this case, was to use such language that it in no way obstructed the flow of the story but rather carried us, the readers, along with it until we were cast ashore et the end, dazed and wondering what had happened to us.