Monday, 16 April 2012


I picked up the first one for less than half price and on a whim at Asda on a Monday. By Wednesday I'd finished it and went back for the other two and I read all three in almost exactly a week.

I suppose there may be some of you who don't know what the books are about -which these days is like not knowing who Harry Potter is- so I'll do a brief summary.

An unknown number of centuries in the future, North America is known as Panem. The 12 Districts of Panem are ruled by the Capitol. 75 years before the start of the first book, the Districts rebelled against the Capitol. They lost, the 13th District was obliterated, and to celebrate their defeat, The Hunger Games were started. Each of the District send one male and one female, aged between 12-18 and chosen by lottery, to the games where they until only one is left alive. The Districts are ranked, roughly on descending order of affluence, though none approach anywhere near the wealth of the Capitol. District 12, the home of Katniss Everdene our narrator, is at subsistence level and starvation is common. Technology ranges, very approximately, from that of the mid-1800s (District 12) to a century or more in advance of our own (the Capitol). Katniss wins the game and inadvertently becomes a symbol of rebellion against the Capitol. The second and third books explore in detail what happens as a result.

Excuse me while I pat myself on the back because I think that's a pretty good synopsis/introduction that doesn't manage to spoil anything. And, let's face it, you know Katniss is going to win because there are two more books to go so that isn't a spoiler. What follows are my impressions of the series.

First of all, I obviously think it's pretty good and certainly better than the Twilight series -I have read the first of them and that was enough. It's a thoughtful trilogy which actually contains ideas and poses questions about relationships, about responsibility, and about society. This is not your average teenage fluff.It's also one of those piece where your own views dictate what you see in it. Is it an allegory about the America Revolution -13 states/districts rebelling against Britain/the Capitol? Or maybe the number is a coincidence. I seem to see certain right-wing libertarian underpinnings but I could be completely wrong about that. It's entirely possible a right-wing libertarian might find underpinnings of libertarian socialism. This ambiguity is part of what makes the books interesting.

The real success of the books depend, however, on convincing and interesting the author makes the narrator (16 at the beginning of the story). In some ways, Katniss is a curious choice as she is very much a passive character in many ways, someone who reacts rather than acts, her choices depending on the actions of others. She is kind and caring but also diffident. She has a long standing friendship with Gale who taught her how to hunt but he isn't her boyfriend. Peeta, the other person from District 12 to enter the Games with her, declares his love for her on national television and she has to play along with it for several reasons, but her feelings for him, which constantly shift, are mixed. In a way, the choices she makes are often forced on her by others and by circumstance which may be the author making the point that this is not necessarily a good thing. Further, she isn't the most perceptive narrator. Our views of other characters and the interpretation of events are determined by Katniss's perceptions and these are not always accurate; which, of course, actually makes it more interesting. It also poses a question to the reader: how much are you like her?

The more I think about it, however, the more I'm decided that is what the trilogy is about: making choices. It's about finding yourself and growing up. As I said above, what you bring to it just might dictate what you find. Whatever, there is a depth here that you don't usually find in many bestsellers. While I find it flawed in some ways it is still an impressive achievement and deserves its reputation.

Now I'm going to try and catch the movie while it's still showing.

(Slightly revised, 17/04/12)

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