At first, I thought this was a series on teen anorexia. Turns out, it's not. I've found it difficult to tell people the premise of the book without making it sound like something no one would want to read. Here are some points about the premise:
- It's set in the future, but it's not overly-futuristic. It's not trying to wow us with how cool technology is.
- It is a dystopian novel, but it is the least preachy dystopian novel I have ever read. I really think it has zero political agenda.
- A large portion of the books details a fight-to-the-death gladiatorial competition between children.
- Naturally, then, these are violent books, but not overly so.
- This is a romance, and a darn good one at that.
These books are a breeze to read. I typically read slowly and like to take long breaks and think about things as I read. I'm not kidding when I say I think it took me a month or two to read Life of Pi. I read Mockingjay in about three sittings over the course of 24 hours. After about the midway point in each book, the writing becomes all action. Not a paragraph goes by without some monumental moment erupting in the reader's mind. The momentum doesn't allow you to stop and think.
Something else I typically do when I'm reading is guess ahead about plot points. That was so fun to do with this series because my expectations were continually dashed, but not in a bad way. Anyone picking up this book would assume that the main character would be a participant in the Hunger Games, but it doesn't happen the way we would expect. From the very beginning, Collins plays with our assumptions and makes every turn a thrill.
She spent most of her career writing screenplays for children's TV shows, and you can tell. The books obsess over the TV coverage of the Games and later events. But there is also a cinematic quality to her writing. I think making a movie of these books would be superfluous. I've already seen it, and it's great. Why do a remake?
I started this review off with a quote from Henry V, "When lenity and cruelty play for a kingdom, the gentler gamester is the soonest winner." I felt that that became the main theme of the books, much more than centralized vs. decentralized government, justice, punishment, etc. The books are about morals and forgiveness. I like that.
On the back of Mockingjay, there's a quote from Stephenie Meyer. Unfortunately for Ms. Meyer, this led me to compare the two authors. Whenever I criticize Meyer (which is too often), I always bring up William Faulkner's Nobel Prize acceptance speech. He says what the problem is with the modern author:
"He writes not of love but of lust, of defeats in which nobody loses anything of value, of victories without hope and, worst of all, without pity or compassion. His griefs grieve on no universal bones, leaving no scars. He writes not of the heart but of the glands."
That's got Stephenie Meyer's name written all over it. But now consider what he says about great writing:
"The young man or woman writing today has forgotten the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself which alone can make good writing because only that is worth writing about, worth the agony and the sweat.
"He must learn them again. He must teach himself that the basest of all things is to be afraid; and, teaching himself that, forget it forever, leaving no room in his workshop for anything but the old verities and truths of the heart, the old universal truths lacking which any story is ephemeral and doomed - love and honor and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice."
That, dear friend, is The Hunger Games.
So that's my general critique. If you haven't read the books, here's where you should pull out. Beyond this point, spoilers abound.
Roger Ebert had this to say about Joe Wright's Pride & Prejudice: