I read the three Hunger Games books in as many days. This was a bit awkward. The movie was so big and well-known, the books almost as much, and here I was being very mainstream and uncool. I guess that’s what happens when one is in Adelaide and not Melbourne.
Because of the books’ popularity, there isn’t really much for me to add in terms of summary or analysis. The book has been subjected to the sort of dissection that only the most blockbusting of Hollywood blockbusters enjoy. Rather than invent the wheel for the n-th time, I might just drop a few insights or thoughts.
Firstly, controversially, I thought the book’s Katniss Everdeen (the protagonist) was a fair dud. She didn’t strike me as having much complexity or emotional depth whatsoever. In fact, a lot of the book seems to be about Katniss’ trying to fathom and react to the emotionally driven actions of people whose emotional lives are more than skin deep. No doubt it was a plot device, but her complete myopia with respect to Peeta’s love makes her seem pathetically naive. Throughout the book she is hardly an actor, much more she is a reactor – following the prompts and suggestions of a coherie of cameo characters such as Haymitch, Peeta, or her stylist. So that was a bit odd.
More interestingly, the book is reminiscent of DBC Pierre’s Vernon God Little in how it describes the documentation and broadcast of human suffering. In Vernon, the tracking down, trying, sentencing, and barely-avoided execution of a teen fugitive are shared with the world as part of a lurid and gripping reality drama. The Hunger Games depicts a similar situation; not only do we learn that every element of the games filmed and broadcast, the rebel organisation also makes quite a show of what they do, even attempting to film and broadcast combat situations. This is literature doing as it ought: reflecting contemporary society’s attempt to come to grips with an unprecedented phenomenon. The deeper penetration of broadcast media in to our lives and, more tellingly, the lowering of standards of decency regarding what should be broadcast and watched, is something of an issue of our times. Suzanne Collins’ portrayal of this is not at all far from the truth we are seeing.
My third point regards a pretty significant failure of the book. In case you haven’t read it, the trilogy concludes with the bringing down of the “Capitol” by the rebel forces. In case you have read it, and didn’t realise, the way this happens is entirely unrealistic. It is highly unlikely that a citizenry could militarily bring down a dictatorship. As Gene Sharp argues in From Dictatorship to Democracy, “by placing confidence in violent means, one has chosen the very type of struggle with which the oppressors nearly always have superiority.” It’s plausible that, in the Hunger Games universe, the people of the districts are oppressed and dissatisfied enough to engage in some sort of political defiance. It is highly implausible that they have the military resources, even with the support of the better-equipped district 13, to literally win a war against the Capitol. That said, Sharp also notes that using military means to take down a dictator tends to perpetuate power imbalances and may not end a dictatorial situation. In that sense, Collins’ storytelling is in many ways illuminating.
This final paragraph isn’t wrapping up because I don’t repeat my points, but it is concluding: The Hunger Games is an enjoyable read. They’re easy to get through, entertaining, and certainly better than reading the latest right-wing attack from The Australian And they’re interesting, fo shizz. Join the crowd.