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So, Hunger Games

I read "The Hunger Games" a few months ago. My feelings about the book were mixed, but I was curious enough to keep reading; however, the fact that the other books in the trilogy were only available in hardback gave me pause. Then I gave in, ordered them from Powell's, and inhaled them over a couple of days, while we were visiting T's mom.

My feelings continue to be mixed, and I want a little more time to digest and read what other people have to say about them, but I also want to get my initial thoughts down first -- if I don't, I tend to forget, and get my own impressions mixed up with what other people have said. It should go without saying that this post will be filled with spoilers for all three books.

First off, I can certainly see why these books were so wildly popular. Every single one was an action-packed page turner. I wanted to know what happened next, I was engaged with the world, the story, the characters. I particularly loved Cinna, and Finnick, and Johanna in her prickly way. My feelings about the central trio -- Katniss, Gale, and Peeta -- are more complicated, but ultimately I did like how authentic Katniss and her mass of conflicted emotions felt. When she had her breakdown in Mockingjay about Peeta's incarceration, and she only wanted comfort from Haymitch because he was the only one there who cared about Peeta as much as she did, and he understood, well, that almost wrecked me. Haymitch... I can't say I like him, exactly, but he's certainly a fascinating character, and I have to wonder how much of what happened was his plan from the beginning.

I also thought there were some interesting things in here about image versus reality, about using the media to exert control, about what happens when the revolution is, in fact, televised. Collins is primarily a television writer, and it shows, both in her tackling of these themes and the fact that her writing is very visual, cinematic. I do think that this series has the potential to make some really excellent movies; in fact, depending on how the adaptation goes, I might like them better than the books. I'm looking forward to the first movie, anyway.

As for the Bad, well. That's going to be a much longer list. Not because I think the books are bad; like I said, I had mixed feelings. But it's a lot easier to pull out the things that bothered me.

  • The use of present tense. I don't mind present tense in short stories, or used briefly for effect -- I've done both of those things myself. But for a novel-length story, it always bothers me. I feel like it gets in the way of the writing; I notice it, in a way I ought not to notice writing mechanics while reading.

  • The love triangle. Good god the love triangle. One of the most annoying "but how will I choooooooose?" stories I have ever read, both because of its pervasiveness through the story, especially the second two books, and also because I was unconvinced that either Peeta or Gale was the best choice for Katniss. Especially since she is seventeen. Why are we so hung up on this idea that first love has to be true love forever? Plus there's the whole "there can be only one!" problem. And then, in the end, Collins sets it up that there is no real choice for Katniss to make (there's no way she can be with Gale when a part of her blames him, rightly or wrongly, for Prim's death), which leads into my next point.

  • Katniss has no agency. None. Whatsoever. She is a pawn of others from beginning to end, used by the Capitol, used by Haymitch, used by Snow, used by Coin, used by Plutarch, used by Peeta and Gale. The only true, free choice she makes is her decision to take Prim's place as tribute. Even when it appears that she is making a bold decision -- the poison berries, the assassination of Coin -- she's been manipulated into that place by forces beyond her control. I think this is a purposeful choice made by Collins; it's even mentioned on the jacket copy for Mockingjay. So it actually bothers me less than it would if it seemed to be accidental on the authors part. But still, troublesome that a girl that I suspect is going to be held up as an example of a "strong female character" for generations to come is... kind of really not. And she really should have had more of an inkling about what was going on -- I figured out the implications of the mockingjay on Plutarch's watch immediately, for example, and it didn't seem realistic that she would be so dense about things.

  • While we're on the topic of Katniss being manipulated, can we talk about how fundamentally creepy it is that Haymitch, an older man and supposed mentor figure, manipulated Katniss, an innocent teenager, into showing affection for Peeta on national television with rewards of food and medicine? Because really, that's pretty creepy if you think about it.

I don't know this, because I haven't sought out reviews and commentary yet (although I will), but I suspect that the anger and agony over the ending had to do with Prim's death. Considering that this book is full of dead children (and that didn't bother me quite as much; Panem is a brutal society and I appreciate that Collins didn't shy away from the ramifications of that), I wasn't too bothered by that, although of course it made me sad. I do wish Prim had been developed better before the last book -- it felt a little bit like we were getting to know her just in time for her to be killed. If the wailing was about Katniss ending up with Peeta instead of Gale, I have much less sympathy for it.

Overall, I'm glad I read them, if only because now I know what all the fuss is about. They were entertaining, despite their problems, and I'm looking forward to the first movie for sure.

This entry is also posted at http://owlmoose.dreamwidth.org/567017.html. There are currently comment count unavailable comments on DW.



( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
Dec. 29th, 2011 05:32 pm (UTC)
Thinking on it more, I have a LOT of issues with this book that are similar to yours. (My reaction is here: http://iamleaper.livejournal.com/1882063.html)
I zoomed in on the mechanics, especially in the last book where the author uses these literary tricks to skip the action -- having Katniss sleep through battles or be stuck in the hospital. And randomly going mute for four pages. It seemed like such a novelist cop-out that I just put down the book at the end and went WHAT.

I really disliked Katniss because she was particularly unlikable. She was a whiny teenager and, along with that, she had no agency because she was being manipulated the whole time. The love triangle was so distracting to me, and it never got interesting, really, it was just a bunch of whining OMG WHAT TO DOOOO??

Anyway. I was still entertained by it, but I had a lot of issues with it. I'll probably see the movie... for $1 from Redbox, perhaps.
Dec. 29th, 2011 05:42 pm (UTC)
I liked Katniss better than you did, but I totally agree about skipping over key parts of the story by taking her out of the action. This was especially a problem in Mockingjay, but it also really bothered me at the end of Catching Fire, where we learn about the conspiracy in totally expository fashion.

I have to admit, the preview for the first movie was pretty compelling. A friend mentioned to me that the whole series read like a movie treatment to her. Not so good for a book, but potentially interesting once it's translated to film.
Dec. 29th, 2011 08:04 pm (UTC)
So The Hunger Games is on my to-read list because a friend recommended it. Given what you have to say about Katniss's lack of agency, I'm thinking of skipping the books & possibly seeing the movie.

But just in case I decide to read it, I have another question. I didn't realize the book was first in a trilogy, & I'm currently cranky about how many of the books on my to-read list are trilogies or tetralogies or heptalogies!

So... does the first book stand on its own? Or given that if I like characters at all I generally want to know what happens to them, am I dooming myself to read all three?

Yes, this is probably a petty & illogical reason to kick a book off my list. :) It's just that I'm frustrated with reading a series because I like one or two characters even when I don't actually like the books/series as a whole, & I don't seem to have the willpower to *not* read the whole series as long as there is at least one character who interests me.
Dec. 29th, 2011 08:19 pm (UTC)
The first book ends at a good stopping point but it is absolutely not complete on its own. Fortunately, they're YA and read quickly. And it's definitely a trilogy -- no more books to come.
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