"A commonplace book is what a provident poet cannot subsist without, for this proverbial reason, that “great wits have short memories:” and whereas, on the other hand, poets, being liars by profession, ought to have good memories; to reconcile these, a book of this sort, is in the nature of a supplemental memory, or a record of what occurs remarkable in every day’s reading or conversation." - Jonathan Swift, "A Letter of Advice to a Young Poet"

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Review: The Hunger Games, Book 1

I haven't had so much trouble keeping my hands off a book since Harry Potter. Now, I don't pretend that Collins has done anything on the same scale as Rowling. In fact, for the first time in my life, I'm actually pretty glad that they're making a movie of a book I like. Usually, it feels like such a cop-out (why not just make up your own story and film it?) or too much of a risk (what if they get it all wrong?). But my main qualm with Collins is that she fails to flesh out her fictional world enough. For example, if I hadn't already seen the movie trailer, I'm not sure how I would have imagined the dress Katniss wears to the reapings, which is simply described as a blue dress, but which look so perfectly worn down and ill-fitting in the trailer.

As I read, I had no trouble following Katniss through the spaces and the crowds of strange people she encounters, but I felt often like I was supplying some prototypical sci-fi/fantasy interiors to fill out the minimal description on the page. All of which is to say that I'm really excited for the movie, because I'm hoping it will take what Collins wrote and run with it and put in all the little odd details that are so fun to read in the futuristic, fantasy, and sci-fi genres.

As I said, though, that was really my only quibble with the book. I didn't come in expecting great writing, but the style was clean and effective throughout. Most impressively, it gripped me right from the start and hasn't let go since, even though I've finished the book and set it aside to be returned to the library. As a writer, I'm not very skilled at manipulating plot, so I hugely admire any writer who can so perfectly pace a story, giving us a rest or some reflection for a few pages and then cutting it off at exactly the right moment with a new revelation or imperative action.

Which brings me to my final thought of the day. Beyond telling a good story, I think Collins did an excellent job of including subtle social commentary through the book - in such a perfect way for a YA novel, not hitting you over the head, not spewing anger and frustration, just carefully setting out the truth the way she sees it. The way she implicates us, the readers, in the Games is just great. From the start, you think you're totally allied with a rebel, totally opposed to the Capitol and its abusive governance. But as soon as the Games begin, we're hooked, just like all the millions of people watching them on screens throughout Panem. We cannot escape the fact that we are reading an exciting and entertaining book and that we are, to some extent, thrilled by the dangers these kids are undergoing for the amusement and benefit of the people of the Capitol. Whatever you choose to see the Games stand for, or even if you choose not to apply parallels to our world, you can't quite condemn them completely, because you are still reading about them, not, I would guess, in total disgust, but more in a complex mix of horror and fascination, of sadness and thrill.

All of which make this book a little more than a well-told adventure. I loved that complexity in the moral. I loved Katniss as a heroine and am absolutely rooting for Peeta (but please don't spoil the outcome of the romance for me!). I loved the feeling of being transported away on a bullet train into another world every time I opened the book. And I'm currently trying desperately to find a copy of Book 2 that hasn't been checked out, lost, put on hold, or relegated to that most frustrating category, "Unavailable."


No comments:

Post a Comment