Monday, October 29, 2012

A Book Review?

(Oh God, watch out internet! Woman with an opinion, coming through! You may be relieved I really don’t intend to make a habit of this – writing reviews for books. But, occasionally, I will pick up a book and feel the need to talk about it and since this is MY platform, MY little tiny corner in the world, why not?

This is just my thoughts and disagreement about one book that is popular. Just one opinion that doesn’t change or weigh in on anything. Laugh at it, scoff, hate it – that’s all just fine. If you love the Hunger Games, that’s equally fine. One thing people need to be really clear on is that it’s okay to like problematic things and that most things are problematic, depending on who you talk to.

Don’t get crazy on me internet, one opinion on The Hunger Games isn’t going to bring the world crashing down.)

I always find trends curious; books, movies, politics – it all says something about our culture. This is me focusing on book trends, more specifically The Hunger Games. I am in a grey area in regards to the book. I would say on the flat surface it works well as a short piece of entertainment. It’s quick to read, easy to read and doesn’t require a lot of mental investment.

But (oh you knew there was a but coming) it’s as though it was halfway written. It starts out with a promising tale; a dystopian world where humanity has become so depraved they have children kill children for the entertainment of the upper class. Government is corrupt, people are starving and the gap between rich and poor is astronomical.

Come ON -fantastic premise for a book! and perhaps there begins the problem. This has been done before, successfully;

Lord of the Flies

1984

Battle Royale

The Lottery

All books (er, manga?) that deliver a powerful message through the use of horror and graphic violence. See, there is a rule with regards to writing fiction (especially sci-fi and fantasy): if you are going to include graphic, lovingly described violence, mutilation and rape you better damned well be certain is has something to do with the plot and that it exists to move the plot in some way. Otherwise it’s just a cheap trick for shock value and becomes hackneyed and offensive if overused (I’m looking at you GRRM).

The plot threads begin to fray as soon as Katniss enters the Arena. Let’s divide up the problems:

Romance

Some day, I pray, I BEG, fervently there will be a day when an author writes a fantasy/sci-fi novel, with a female character, that does not include banal romantic plots (or rape. God on High I am sick of female characters existing for the sole purpose of being raped). It’s like a bad stereotype that a woman can’t and won’t pick up a book unless there is ROH-mance because our lady brains are filled with pink hearts and fluffy cotton balls.

The whole ‘romance’ between Pita- er, whoops PEETA sorry and Katniss is just…awkward. Clumsy. Annoying. The angle that would have been interesting is in regards to Katniss’ survival; she could have used Peeta and the audience’s interest in romance in a deliberate and cold blooded way to survive. She has so much riding on survival – her family, the downtrodden people of District 12, the continuation of her life at District 12, her friend Gale. Wouldn’t it be logical to use whatever leverage you have to win? Mind, body, soul anything and everything to claw your way to victory? Instead we have a murky in-between romance where Katniss is coerced/bullied into snuggling and kissing with Peeta and eventually is uncertain herself whether or not she has romantic emotions towards him.

Also, the author could have used Peeta in a way that shows Katniss’s hunter savvy instead of as an equal which he really isn’t; he is, admittedly, a rather bumbling, doughy, more or less useless character who spends most of the book being a lodestone around her neck. Dangerous when you are hard pressed in keeping your own hide intact.

On the note of Peeta being her touchstone, her point of sanity and warmth in a terrifying ordeal was it really even necessary? There might have been a great opening for the exploration of a powerful friendship between Rue and Katniss that could have filled the need for warmth and love. Rue, I felt, was killed off way too quickly and a bit over dramatically. Holding her tiny hand while the tears ran down Katniss’s cheek and giving the gesture of respect and farewell would have gotten the point across emotionally. Singing and drowning Rue in flowers was over the top and almost satirical.

The Cost of Violence

Arrrrgghh. This could have been such a good book for discussing the cost of violence and the traumatic effects of being forced to kill to survive. Ms. Collins missed the boat on this one. If you are going to have a free-for-all, Roman Coliseum style battle-to-the-death plot that is graphically described (using children no less!) you better be damned sure to include the psychological repercussions of murdering another human being and the terror of looming certain death. It’s kind of a big thing. Which is only halfway touched upon by Katniss or any other of the child murderers.

She could have described the Career Tributes further as not only being trained for the Hunger Games but being a product of a morally corrupt society. They should have been described as killing machines; without emotion, without humaneness, living solely for the glory of blood and victory. You could have done a lot with Roman soldier allusions and a antagonistic character who lives for glory at the cost his or her humanity. Never really got that from the description. They could have been described as a pack of predators that move silently and as lethally as wolves on the hunt and we could have had an underdog angle with Katniss outsmarting, outliving them all. Nope, didn’t really get that either.

There was a fantastic opening for Katniss to explore the moral dilemma of killing with a consciousness. Of having been raised to respect life (even those of the animals she killed for survival – other cultures devoutly pray and thank the animal they have killed because it means survival for them even at the cost of life) and only to kill when absolutely necessary. Don’t really see that either. If memory serves she kills two people; the attacker of Rue (in which she doesn’t even really give a thought about) and the mercy killing of Cato which, again, there is no emotional reaction. Just sort of, meh, he’s dead, I WIN!!!

(And can we discuss, for a moment, the weird hybrid zombie wolf things made from the dead bodies of the Tributes? What the bleeding hell was that all about!?! That was the most random, most bizarre, most ridiculous cop out of a monster antagonist I’ve ever seen!! Aaand they disappear back into the earth, never to be seen again. And are never really explained; er, is this a recent thing or have all the dead Tributes of the past been turned into genetic experimentations? What about the families of those tributes? Wouldn’t they be kind of, well, pissed off? Wouldn’t you think Katniss would be pissed that they used sweet little Rue in something so horrible? Wouldn’t that give her ammunition to fuel a revolt? Is this ever resolved or are the zombie Tributes just sort of…forgotten, doomed to run wild in the underground labyrinth of…where ever it was they came from? I mean, just, bwuh? Completely random.)

The final showdown felt like something that was pulled out of the author’s ass. It could have been a glorious show of Katniss’s resolve, guts and strategic ability to lure the last of the inhuman Career Tributes into a trap of death but no. We get the random zombie Tributes (see above) who finish the job for her without her really doing anything.

And there is the suicide attempt. AArrrggh. And the whole, ‘can’t be angry with me, I be in LOVE’. I kind of wished Peeta had just bled out and left Katniss to go on to create a glorious revolution to deliver the people from the grasp of the corrupt government and….eh, never mind. Speaking of heroic ladies there is the aspect of:

Heroines

Oh, GOD, Heroines. Someday we’re going to have a proper one. Katniss is… well, halfway done. The introduction of Katniss was well done. She’s tough, she’s a survivor, she’s experienced terrible losses at a young age and has born up well under the pressure to provide for her family

(btw, LOVE the way mental illness is treated in the novel; mother marries, has kiddies, loses husband in a really horrible accident, sinks into dehabilitating depression and Katniss calls her, essentially, a worthless piece of shit. Mother is not seen as other than anything but a wasted shell who is occasionally screamed at by Katniss to be something other than a worthless lump. Yup, if you suffer from dehabilitating mental illness you lose your worth as a human being and your competent offspring must take care of you, forever more, because there is no coming back from it. Can’t really think of many adult characters in the book that are shown in a good light)

She does right by most people (mostly), all ingredients for a strong female character who has the potential to Do Things. And it just sort of peters out from there. We never see her resolve. We never see her look at the horror of what she is facing and have her make the choice of surviving at any and all costs. We never see the seeds of rebellion blossom as I thought it would – if it were me in that Arena I wouldn’t just be thinking about survival I would be thinking that if I survived it I would raze the goddamn government to the ground and stick their heads on poles. I would make damn certain that we would be the last Tributes to enter the Arena. Her time in the Arena could have been spent preparing her for the inevitable rebellion that is brewing in the wings. (the story REALLY could have used more foreshadowing of a brewing rebellion and of how unhappy the downtrodden were)

It could have been spent in sharpening her skills; I kept waiting for her to totally sniper swipe the Career Tributes from 500 yards, from a mother f*&^%ing tree. THAT would have been awesome and would have shown Katniss using her aforementioned bad ass archery skills like I thought she was, otherwise why make such a huge point of Katniss using a bow and arrow? Nnnnnope, didn’t really happen. There was a golden opportunity to show an internal battle between the hunter inside of her and the compassionate human who is sickened at the thought of killing but does it efficiently and without hesitation because she must. There was an opportunity for Katniss to grow into the role of a leader by gathering a small band together and defying the Career Tributes and Government even if it meant tragedy and death.

There was an opportunity for her to be cunning, resourceful, for her to gain strength and tenacity as each one of those children die horribly, for her to be shaped into the role of Rebel which this world so desperately needs. But no. We see that she is, indeed, pretty good at keeping out of trouble and surviving in the Arena but her flaunted skills as an archer aren’t really used to the best of her ability. She isn’t strategic and doesn’t really think ahead. She just sort of scrapes a pass at survival until the zombie Tributes tie up the end of the battles. We get weak, watery romance that probably shouldn’t have been written in the first place. We get the idea that when she goes home she will continue her downtrodden existence without really taking away anything from her horrific experience. We get a half-baked heroine.

Intended Audience

As I closed in on the last few paragraphs of this book my resounding thought that I had was this is a children’s book?

Ain’t no WAY I’d let any kid under the age of sixteen read this nonetheless the age group it’s targeted at; 12 – 16 year olds. Have we become that desensitized that the gruesome murder of children is something we let our own children read? This is not a happy book. This is a very graphic, depressing book that has a lot of heavy subject matter.

Whatever message this book is trying to get across is murky. Girls have to go along with romance to get along even if they don’t feel it or want it? The government is evil? Communities don’t give a shit about you? Adults are unreliable? It’s okay to be strong but not too strong? I don’t even know.

The popularity and circulation of this book is one of those trends of recent years that disturbs me. It makes me curious what the world will think in fifty years when the top of the book lists of now will include things like Twilight, A Song of Fire and Ice and The Hunger Games. Sexy, violent, graphic books without any deepness or thought or literate merit. Fast and entertaining but ultimately empty. It isn’t that bad of a book. It isn’t that great of one either. It’s the equivalent of fast food literature.

As such I don’t feel a driving need to read the rest of the trilogy having made do with a summary and it’s about what I expected. ‘Heroine’ ends up with man, gets married, has kids, the end.

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