Continuing my review-writing kick and switching themes and genres pretty dramatically, here’s some thoughts on the dead tree image-free version of Suzanne Collin’s The Hunger Games and worries about the glamorous film version that I haven’t yet witnessed! This post brought to you by the plethora of interesting writing about the film that’s going around the internet at the moment but not saying quite the things that I thought about the franchise.

 

I’ve just made plans to go and see the film adaptation of The Hunger Games, record-breaking teen blockbuster movie of the year and widely feted rival to the Twilight saga. I’m interested but also pretty apprehensive. It’s already chosen to only solicit auditions from white women for a character a bunch of other people and I read as explicitly biracial , so my hopes aren’t exactly sky-high, but it sounds likely that it’s going to be ambivalent about at least a few of things that normally get taken for granted and presented uncritically in mainstream media.

The book really surprised. I’d borrowed the first two books from a library last summer, having heard the name around for long enough to get curious. It was with a fair bit of trepidation: I remembered visiting a bookshop, reading the blurb and going “no, I don’t think your love triangle’s any more interesting for being set in an improbable dystopia”. It felt to me like dystopian themes were fashionable at the moment and that murderous reality TV shows weren’t novel enough ideas to be anything other than gimmicky plot devices to make a setting artificially bleak; in short, that the books’ premise was the genre fiction equivalent of filtering grainy sepia over the top of your mediocre photography to make it instantly evocative.


But Cleolinda liked the books and she’s a pretty reliable critic, so I picked the first one up while I was looking for escapist nonsense. And, well, I read it in a day and downloaded the sequel for Kindle. Get lost, literary snobbery, you do me more harm than good.

I’d have utterly loved the first book when I was a teenager: the dystopia gets described entirely through its effects on its people, and instead of jumping up and pressing pause on the dystopia-premise, the romantic subplot gets tangled up into it. And that’s exactly what I want from almost any dystopian stories: not a calm walk through the social and political development of a dark future, but a story, a story that takes familiar things and puts them under stress to see what happens. The premise is that the strongest part of a damaged future America designed the titular games to punish a long-past rebellion from its colonies, but we hear this only through the propaganda the protagonist hears; the focus is on characters and emotional realities, and that drew my attention away from whether the future was plausible: its people seemed pretty convincing to me, and the ways it affected them.

It’s effective: almost every bit of plot and subplot is run by the Games. Even – especially – the romantic subplot. That shows up first when the love interest mentions it to grab favour and attention from the oppressive Capitol, and the way the media in the book latch onto this, it’s imagine the kind of fannish popularity contests and shipping wars on internet now showing up in the conversations of the books’ overprivileged Capitol-dwellers as they watching events of the Games. It’s morbid and clever and mean, and that makes me like it a lot more than I expected to. I hope the film’s as clever.

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