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Clarissa's Blog

An academic's opinions on feminism, politics, literature, philosophy, teaching, academia, and a lot more.

Hunger Games: A Review

On the advice of reader V., I read the first book in Suzanne Collins’s Hunger Games.  This is not my genre but I wasn’t risking anything since Amazon gives these books out for free on Kindle.

I have to say that, considering the genre, the book is quite good. The prose is nothing to write home about but, in spite of the impotence of the vocabulary and the hobbled nature of the grammar structures, there is nothing in this book even remotely resembling the vicious injuries to the English language one has seen in the Twilight series.

Hunger Gameis highly entertaining and it reads very easily. As you can see, I read it in a day (a bout of regular Friday night insomnia helped.) The premise has been a little overdone, of course. As I read, I kept wondering why it is that societies that suffer from obesity enjoy fantasizing about starvation so much. I guess such fantasies tickle their appetites and allow them to eat more than they could normally manage to stuff into themselves. I know that all the descriptions of endless meals made me eat like a maniac yesterday.

The main problem I had with the book is how completely inconsistent the main character was. I understand that this is the fantasy genre, but there has got to be at least a pretense at some internal logic in the novel. Katniss, who is extremely self-sufficient, strong, resilient and opinionated, suffers from a debilitating lack of self-esteem. She somehow manages not to know that she is attractive and spends the entire novel alternating between feats of self-reliance and profound belief in herself with extremely obnoxious and unmotivated bouts of “But it isn’t possible that he likes me. Oh, of course he doesn’t like me. And nobody likes me. And this is all a conspiracy because there is no way anybody likes me. And, of course, he, of all people, doesn’t like me. And people in general don’t like me. And if somebody says in public that he is in love with me, it will make everybody laugh at me because I’m probably five years old and I think being loved makes adults look ridiculous.” To me, it made zero sense.

Another problem was that I had to make a huge effort to remember that these characters are supposed to be 16. Peeta, for example, behaves like a very mature 40-year-old man. If anybody has seen this kind of 16-year-old boys, especially among those who, within the structure of their society, are considered sheltered, please let me know.

Later on, I will write a separate post addressing the issue of whether this is a feminist book. This is a debate that has been raging for a while and even The Nation has an article on the subject in its most recent issue, so I want to share my point of view.

This is the end of the academic year and I’m in need of light, distracting reading matter. This means that I will definitely be reading the next two books in the series. I’m not planning on watching the movie because, for one, I have no doubt that Hollywood has made exactly the kind of product that the book tries to criticize: flashy, gaudy, full of obnoxious special effects, with half-naked surgically altered starlets rolling in the mud for the delectation of the viewing audience. Every last shred of the timid social critique that the novel offers will have been excised form the movie.

Besides, I have no doubt that the film producers have cast 25-year-old starlets to play 16-year-old characters. The only people who can play 16-year-olds are either actual 16-year-olds or extremely talented performers of the caliber that Hollywood is not familiar with. Otherwise, this becomes a huge circus where adult men and women pretend to be kids, making themselves look ridiculous in the process.

Of course, if there are people who are willing to tell me that the movie is not that bad, I’m willing to listen.

Do share whether you liked the novel and why. I’m very interested in how people feel about it.

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34 thoughts on “Hunger Games: A Review

  1. “This is the end of the academic year and I’m in need of light, distracting reading matter. This means that I will definitely be reading the next two books in the series.”

    HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHHAHAHAHAHAHAAAAAAA

    Sorry, that was my reaction to that sentence. I read them last January (the weekend before I came down with mono) and never posted a review. I quite enjoyed the first book, but the second two are anything but what I would consider “light”, though they are certainly “distracting”. Good reads, definitely darker and heavier than the first though. (And caused me to have a massive breakdown – I don’t usually get that way with books, and I think my body was dealing with mono and I didn’t have enough energy to deal with them the way I usually do, but anyway, definitely not as “fluffy” as the first book.) Kindle has them for free as well, but of course, you can only get one per month… Hope you enjoy! I’ll be interested in hearing what you think of them. 🙂

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    • By “light and entertaining” I meant that it isn’t serious literature. I get tired by the end of the year and my brain can’t process anything but the simplest literary fare. This can be read without the brain functioning at all. It’s like watching a TV show in that sense.

      “And caused me to have a massive breakdown – I don’t usually get that way with books, and I think my body was dealing with mono and I didn’t have enough energy to deal with them the way I usually do”

      – OK, now I’m not sure I want to read them.

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      • They were definitely interesting and thought-provoking. The author does focus a lot on what war can do to a person. They definitely don’t qualify as on my list of “light reads”… but they might for you… I don’t study literature (of the non-scientific type) all the time, so my threshhold may be totally different from yours. And the breakdown I’m sure was somewhat related to getting sick… not entirely, mind. But at least somewhat.

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  2. Re: Katniss’ self-esteem. From my own expereince I can tell you that one can be of very low self-esteem in a relationship area, but can have high self-esteem, even bordering with arrogance, in some other area(s). Because of being actually very good in that other area(s). Maybe one has to be a bit autistic to have this combination, I do not know. But Katniss did strike me as somewhat autistic, and aware of some degree of desinterest and unwillingness to follow mainstream social scripts.
    Peeta’s maturity level is unrealistic, indeed…
    Re movie… you may be disappointed. It is not that bad as you suspect, but I still felt that the director failed (or worse, did not even try) to sufficiently hint at the flashy reality TV aspect of it as something problematic. Totalitarian society was shown as problematic, but not the “bread and show” aspect of it… That’s why I asked a question in my original post on Hunger Games couple of days ago – does anybody feel that the director actually managed to make the viewers suspect that they are, in fact, the citizens of the Capitol?
    On the other hand, if you some day need to review something in a state of rage… 🙂

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    • She is 16 and she doesn’t know she is pretty? Nobody is that autistic. 🙂 🙂

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    • I agree about Katniss. In fact, I’d go a bit further and say that her being very self-sufficient while doubting that people like her or that she is attractive makes a lot of sense for a girl who has had to take care of herself from a very young age. Her father died, her mother was essentially absent through severe depression; for Katniss, it would feel like people don’t tend to stick around for her sake, so she must not be someone people like. (I do feel like there are some hints early on that, had it not been for the Games, she might have gotten past this feeling and ended up in a comfortable relationship with Gale.)

      Also, the Hunger Games do have a feel-good aspect: the riches awarded to the winner. (That this is feel-good comes out much more in the movie.)

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  3. the twisted spinster on said:

    I haven’t read the books yet, but I will point you to this series of incisive blog posts on the entire trilogy (it’s actually a page linking to all her reviews but the Hunger Games is the one at the top). Warning: the posts contain spoilers because the blogger, Farla, goes through the books chapter by chapter, so you might want to stop at just the Hunger Games ones as you’ve read that and not read the ones on Catching Fire and Mockingjay. But briefly, on the question of whether the Hunger Games is feminist, Farla says it is not and her reasons why are quite persuasive. Also she’s American, so she picks out American tropes that you might have missed (for example, Katniss is a Daddy’s girl — mothers are inefectual/absent; men’s wants and needs are more important in general; women are supposed to be nurturing healers though it’s okay to be warrior women so long as they give that up to become nurturing healers).

    And the food thing. Americans have a very weird relationship with food. I can’t really describe it. It seems to start some time in the 80s, about the same time that they started pushing that whole food pyramid (instead of the more balanced four food groups) thing and everyone started eating pasta and other grain-based meals more often than the old traditional meat and potatoes. And also as people got more prosperous (though it’s clear now that a lot of the good fortune of the 80s was built on sand, but never mind that for now) they had a lot more disposable income to spend on luxuries like eating out. But it’s not that either… I find myself doing it too, talking about my “favorite meals” like they were some kind of sacred religious rite.

    As for the starvation, Farla points out several time that the characters don’t really act like they’ve been desperately starving, only hungry at times and having monotonous or sucky food (as modern Americans would describe it). I think there are scenes of Katniss throwing out parts of animals that could have fed her, and there’s a scene where she throws cookies out the window for some reason of principle, and they poor Haymitch’s booze down the sink which Farla points out is stupid, because alcohol is food. Americans don’t know anything about real starvation — we know about the Depression maybe from grandparents or books, but even then people weren’t dropping like flies, they were just hungry and didn’t have a lot of variety in their meals.

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    • Katniss was in no way a daddy’s girl; she was her father’s daughter. There’s a difference.

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      • the twisted spinster on said:

        Of course she was “her father’s daughter.” I didn’t claim he wasn’t really her father!

        But I know what you’re saying, actually. That statement is right out of the “Daddy Is All Important” handbook. Katniss adored her dead father and was indifferent to her living mother, at least emotionally (you can take care of someone’s physical needs without caring about them as people), but it’s clear in the books that even before her father was killed he was all-in-all to her and her mother was just an adjunct to this pairing. Hell, I haven’t even read the books and I know that. But you need to get your head out of American Dadlandia to see it. Most Americans have a kneejerk reaction to the word “Daddy,” not a rational one. Hence peoples’ refusal to see the damage this concept does.

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  4. luna on said:

    I’m looking forward to Elizabeth Badinter’s new book, that’s coming out on the 24th. I’m sure you are too.

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  5. I never thought of Katniss as that beautiful, actually. I mean, she obviously has some attractive features, but I imagined hers as being something that wouldn’t fit conventional molds. That’s why people could find her attractive and yet she would think she isn’t. Perhaps I’m wrong, though.

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    • There is a point where Peeta and Haymitch discuss her appearance and say something like, “She has no idea what people feel when they see her,” or something like that. And she then spends five pages repeating how she has absolutely no idea what they were even talking about. I found that to be very strange.

      I mean, she’s the kind of a girl who gets a boyfriend in the midst of a life and death situation. How much more attractive can you get? 🙂

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      • Lol, good points. I didn’t remember that part. I guess my mind was just trying to reconcile her feelings with what was going on around her.

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      • “I mean, she’s the kind of a girl who gets a boyfriend in the midst of a life and death situation. How much more attractive can you get? :-)”

        I thought that was her going along with the show more than anything, but I agree that she can’t exactly see herself as unattractive if she manages that feat.

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        • “I thought that was her going along with the show more than anything, but I agree that she can’t exactly see herself as unattractive if she manages that feat.”

          – Still, wherever she goes, there is a boy who likes her. At that age, I could only dream of meeting a boy who’d articulate his feelings as well as this guy Peeta does. Some girls have all the luck. 🙂

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      • —I mean, she’s the kind of a girl who gets a boyfriend in the midst of a life and death situation.

        Well, assuming Peeta was not faking it, she got him before the life and death situation. (If it is realistic that she never noticed him being into her earlier is a separate issue… but I think it is reasonably realistic, with all the care of her family preoccupying her, plus likely subconscious attraction to Gale.)

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    • So should we go to the movie or not? I need this decision to be made for me. 🙂

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      • You want us to inflict some happiness on you too? 🙂 🙂

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      • This would be a serious movie review which reflects my impression:
        http://popwatch.ew.com/2012/03/24/the-hunger-games-book-movie/?ew_packageID=20419951
        “Audiences don’t like being morally implicated.”

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      • And even before that review, I had the same problem with Capitol audience in the movie being faceless. I thought they should have filled the audience with all the pointless celebrities they could talk into that (which would not be difficult) 🙂

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        • “. I thought they should have filled the audience with all the pointless celebrities they could talk into that”

          – Yes, precisely! Like Dr. Phil’s sons and people of that kind. Former Top Chef contestants, etc. Good idea!

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        • “Hunger Games is one of the very finest and most interesting funny-wig movies of the modern age. But by translating Suzanne Collins’ angry, fascinating, gloriously accusatory novel into a nicely-paced action picture — the kind of movie where a starving girl from a bleak mining district wears a nice leather jacket when she goes out hunting with her handsome Hemsworth pal — the movie version of Hunger Games winds up being a well-packaged, unchallenging studio product. Caesar Flickerman would be proud.”

          – I haven’t even seen the movie and I already knew that this is exactly what they would do to it. And then people say I’m unfair to Hollywood.

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  6. Go see the movie! It really isn’t bad – Some of the actors are obviously 20 and not 16, but I wouldn’t say the starlets are very glamorous at all. The movie certainly isn’t gaudy. Some social critique remains intact, as well.

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