This is yet another novel which would not have come to my attention but for Goodreads and I would not have chosen to read it had it not been for the overwhelmingly positive reaction to the book of my Goodreads friends. I'm so glad that I did.
For me, the most compelling aspect of the novel is what it says about our society. From the idea that rich and powerful people live on what is produced by poor people far away, to the concept of people being entertained by a reality television program the objective of which is survival at the expense of other contestants, to the depiction of a great “sporting” contest in which the success or failure of the contestants depends on their ability to attract wealthy sponsors, to the use of children killing other children as a weapon of control, these are all things that happen in the real world, right now. Certainly, the images are exaggerated*, but this only brings the reality of our world into sharper relief.
I was engaged with the narrative from the very beginning. Although initially disappointed with Carolyn McCormick’s narration – I don’t think she does a great job with a number of the characters - I left my irritation with the narrator behind and fully entered the world of the novel. The details of the world are clever. For example, the depiction of the relationship between the Capitol and the Districts as akin to the relationship between ancient Rome and its empire is simply but effectively achieved by calling children who are sent to the Capitol to fight to the death in the Hunger Games “tributes” and by giving the Capitol’s inhabitants Latin names.
Collins has also done well with the development of her characters. The novel is narrated by the sixteen-year-old heroine, Katniss Everdeen to whom Collins gives a very believable voice. Katniss is prickly, sullen and quite clueless about her own emotions, but she is smart, loyal and resourceful. It is interesting to watch her grow from resigned acceptance of the system in which she lives in general and of the Hunger Games in particular, to clarity about what those things represent, culminating in her light bulb moment, when she refers to the killing at the Hunger Games by its correct name - murder. Other characters are also well realised. This is particularly true of Haymitch, the alcoholic mentor and former Hunger Games champion, who shows the classic signs of a veteran with combat stress reaction.
Successfully pulling off a first person, present tense narrative is no easy feat, given that the point of view has to remain solely that of the narrator. Collins achieves this without faltering. While Katniss speculates about what she can’t see and doesn’t know, the perspective remains hers. Even within the limitations imposed by this narrative style, Collins is able to let the reader know more than her heroine is aware of.
As is to be expected from the subject matter, the novel contains graphic descriptions of violence. However, there is nothing about this which either encourages or glorifies violence - quite the contrary. The horrific situation in which the participants in the Hunger Games find themselves speaks for itself. Making choices in situations of adversity, friendship, loyalty and above all, what it means to be human are what the novel is really about.
Overall, I found this audiobook riveting to listen to. The only reason I’m glad not to have read the book when it was first published is that I can go on to the second volume of the trilogy without delay.
*There is no exaggeration in relation to the issue of children killing children. The plight of child soldiers has had a lot of exposure in social media in recent times. A friend of mine who works for the United Nations was posted in Uganda a few years ago, where his task was to re-unite child soldiers from the Lord’s Resistance Army with their families and communities. The sheer horror of what those children experienced trumps any fictional account of violence committed by and against children.