The Hunger Games
Author: Suzanne Collins
Reader: Carolyn McCormick
Source: Local Library
We were allowed to pick one audiobook as part of our 48HBC reading, so this is what I picked. I haven't read it since it first came out, and what with all the hoopla about the movie, I thought I'd go back and see what I thought. I started it this weekend, listened to it about one-third of the way through (while driving, cooking, knitting, etc) and stopped it just before the Games themselves started.
From a technical standpoint, this isn't the best-written book ever. Collins' prose can be downright clunky and infodumpy, with frequent diversions into flashbacks while big things are going on in the present. I wasn't a fan of McCormick's voices either (though she did do a killer Effie). The power of the book comes from two things: the sheer horror of the premise, and Katniss herself.
After so much exposure to the premise, from having read the book first and then the movie hype, you'd think I'd be used to it by now, but oh God. I'm so not. Children killing each other, and their families being forced not only to watch but also to treat it as entertainment? It's the nausea that keeps on giving. Every time I think I'm hardened to it, I run across something else that makes me goggle in horror. Mostly, this comes from the disconnect between the Capitol dwellers and the district Tributes, particularly those like Effie Trinket, Caesar Flickerman, and Katniss's design team, who make their living from these games. They see these kids year after year, up close and personal as they shine them up for the unforgiving eye of the camera, then see them die, and the next year they do it all over again. The next year they are able to do it all over again. That's a special kind of soullessness.
I've heard people complain about Katniss. She's self-involved,
off-putting in her determined self-sufficiency. She doesn't change, doesn't grow. In fact, I think she's so complex to
start with that a fair amount of the book is taken up with simply getting to know her, even though we're in her head.
Everyone tries to make her into something, with limited
success. My favorite example of this is when Haymitch is trying to prep
her for her interview, trying on different personae like coats, and
finally gives up in disgust. When she's told to be honest, her interview is a semi-successful blend of sparkling girl and ferocious warrior, but in truth she's not wholly either.
She tries to be hard and uncaring. In fact, when I was
listening to the first chapter, I was amazed at how brittle she came
across. But then you see the flashes of the girl underneath, the tender
heart protected by a thick hedge of thorns. Katniss is as tough as she
is on the outside because she's so vulnerable underneath. Perhaps due to her awareness of this, she reacts with fury and horror at any suggestion that she might be weak or in need of help (in fact, at the suggestion that she might have any stereotypically feminine traits, which is probably a subject for an entire Gender Studies thesis).
As a revolutionary, Katniss is a total disaster. She doesn't care about changing the world. She's worried about staying in it. It's other people that ignite her sense of the tremendous unfairness of it all. Or more accurately, her sense that something can be done, because she's known from the start that the world is unfair. As it happens, it's Gale and Peeta who jointly effect this change. Don't tell the "teams," but these two boys are far more similar, both as individual characters and in their relationships with Katniss, then they'd like to admit.
No, she's not a comfortable person to spend an entire book with. In fact, there are times when she's downright smackable. But whether she's being tough or impulsive or sad or nasty or simply shooting herself in the foot, she's definitely interesting, and definitely someone you want to spend a book with, comfortable or not.