Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve finally done what I’ve been threatening to do for some time. I finally read The Hunger Games.
I’ve been meaning to for years now, I truly have, but there have always been other books to read, other things to do. And then I just bought it. And today, I finished Mockingjay, the third and final book in the series. I just fancied saying a few words about it. Very heavy spoilers follow, so tread lightly if you’re still planning to read them.
I’ll summarise my opinion first. Essentially, I really liked the trilogy. Really liked it. It’s well worthy of the praise it’s had heaped on it. It’s quite rare that something lives up to its hype, in my estimation, but The Hunger Games definitely does. For the most part, anyway.
One thing that I really liked is how clear its subtext is. The bane of many a GCSE English student, a piece of literature’s subtext can still give me nightmares. I always make what I suppose could be called a ‘light’ reading of books. I read for the story, for the characters, not really for what the author’s trying to say. Of course, an author may not always be trying to say anything – speaking from experience, I only occasionally lace my stories with subtext, for instance – but in The Hunger Games, it’s really quite clear what Suzanne Collins is trying to tell the reader. Hell, if you have any familiarity with the concept behind the series, you can get the subtext. Desensitisation to violence, particularly with children. Media-obsessed culture. Children being forced to grow up too quickly. The effects of war. Plus much more. This stuff isn’t hidden, it’s right out in the open. It’s actually a little jarring at times, but it works incredibly well on the whole.
The plot’s the main way that this is brought across, of course, but the two main characters of Katniss and Peeta are also hugely important in getting the themes across. They fit together like a jigsaw. He can do what she can’t and vice versa. They are an almost perfect yin and yang.
Now, Katniss isn’t what you would call the most sympathetic lead character in the history of literature. To be frank, she can come across as a bitch quite a lot of the time, particularly when it comes to playing with Peeta and Gale’s hearts. This characteristic actually makes her a bit of an unreliable narrator (although that’s not really emphasised that much). One thing I noticed, for example, is that whenever Katniss kills, there is only minimal detail. “I shoot him in the neck” is about as much description as we get of her killing Marvel in the first book, whereas her description lingers when, say, Boggs has his legs blown off in Mockingjay. One thing that I found wonderful about Collins’ writing is that, although Katniss is not really a very nice person and gets progressively nastier as the pages turn, she remains likeable. A good character. I wouldn’t want her as a friend, but I’d listen to her telling stories all day.
Peeta, on the other hand, would be a much more traditional protagonist. Many authors would probably write him in that role, actually, especially if the viewpoint of the novel were third person. He’s just…’nice’. Which is a horrible word to use when describing anyone, but it fits him perfectly. No matter how Katniss acts towards him in the first two books, he remains firm with one objective – ‘I love her and I will protect her.’ Compare that to Katniss who, at numerous points, flat out says that she hates Peeta despite the fact that most of the problems he has to deal with are ultimately caused by her. She seems to want to protect him, says that numerous times, but I don’t think I ever really believed it. I always had the feeling that she’d off him if she really had to, but Peeta would never be able to do that to her. At least until he’s brainwashed, but that’s not really the same…
My favourite character, though, is Finnick. I see him as a mix of Peeta and Katniss – he has her combat skills, his eloquence and the determination of them both. He, if anything, has the opposite character arc to Katniss. He starts off, outwardly, as a bit of a prick, but gradually becomes more likeable as the books go on, particularly when he’s more than a bit deranged in much of Mockingjay. I won’t lie, his death upset me. More than any other character, I wanted him to be happy with Alice. He was just as much a pawn of the Capitol and Katniss and Peeta, moreso if anything, and if I were writing the story he’d have been in that meeting before the execution of Snow. I wonder if he’d say yes or no to a new Hunger Games…
Anyway, the series had to end eventually. The end of the first novel was a bit flat, in my reckoning. It was way too open-ended. Of course, that’s because there are two more books, but there wasn’t anything that would have particularly wanted to make me read on if I didn’t already have the other two thirds of the trilogy. I’ll put it this way: if I’d have bought it on publication, I may not have bothered with Catching Fire when it came out the next year.
Catching Fire, incidentally, is my favourite of the trilogy, an opinion I know is shared by many. It’s a very well plotted and suspenseful story, that doesn’t really let its foot off the gas all that much. Unfortunately, the beginning of both The Hunger Games and Mockingjay are a bit slow, a bit plodding (which doesn’t bode well, considering that Mockingjay is due to be split into two films for the adaptation – how’s that for a powerful media playing with audience expectations, eh?!) but pick up in the second and third acts. If anything, Catching Fire does the opposite: it hits the ground running, slows down a bit in act 2, then breaks the sound barrier on its way to a cliffhanger ending. It’s great.
The end of Mockingjay is…hmm. Earlier, I described it to a friend as ‘shit’ but that’s a bit harsh. It’s arguably flatter than the original’s ending. Basically, my main problem with it is that it’s incredibly depressing for the last fifty-odd pages and then, magically, in the space of four pages, it becomes a ‘happy ever after’ ending. I wouldn’t have had a problem with a depressing ending. Equally, I wouldn’t have had a problem with a happy ending. But the ‘best of both worlds’ approach doesn’t fit at all. Incidentally, I have exactly the same problem with the ending of Harry Potter. I’m known by some for my ferocious hatred of ‘Nineteen Years Later’, and The Hunger Games pulls the exact same cop-out. It’s disappointing.
But, taken as a whole, I did really enjoy The Hunger Games and I’d genuinely recommend it to anyone. The film’s good too, incidentally – it might actually be even better at getting some of the themes across, to be honest.
And they all lived happily ever after…