Why does The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins vex me so much? Not because it is a huge commercial success or because it is just the first part of a best-selling trilogy. I admire anyone who can do the time and stick at their desk day after day to finish something. I support the work ethic.
But ethics is only one of the issues for me. The violence is comic book and described without attention to detail and nor is much attention paid to the emotional consequences of it. The pages are dotted with splats as if a succession of flies have been squashed. The only death that disturbed me was that of the twelve year old Rue. For two reasons: Apart from Katniss Everdeen, she was the only rounded character in the novel. Secondly her death smacks of exploitation, for shock value, rather than as emblematic of the brutality of the Capitol's regime.
There lies another problem. The dystopian setting of The Hunger Games is never credible. In the past I have said that the Harry Potter books are a triumph of concept, setting and character over content, but in all four of those areas they leave Suzanne Collins' work trailing behind. I believe in Hogwarts, I don't believe in Panem, the Capitol and the 13 Districts. Where is the rest of the world? Considering the Capitol's extermination of District 13, wouldn't you have thought that the people of a Chinese liberal democracy might have made some kind of military intervention? Absurd? Yes. But I think that if you are to write about dystopian worlds, they need a proper context; one which can be discussed, as in Robert C O'Brian's admirable Z for Zachariah.
And why have the twelve districts in servitude all with a separate economic function? Only for the purposes of the Reaping. Given what we learn about the Capitol's ability to terraform the arena and engineer genes to the extent that they can produce the laughable wolverine mutants from the corpses of the fallen Tributes at the end of the novel, clearly the Capitol could produce all the food and resources it requires.
It is the poor plotting (the sudden change of the rules to allow two people from the same district to win), cartoon characters (the stylists and people of the Capitol), lack of challenging themes and paucity of language that really offends me. The book reads like a poorly produced video game. I want to know how those cameras see everything, even in caves - come on explain the technology - how do those parachutes bearing gifts from the sponsors land so accurately?
And teenage romance? Katniss & Peeta. Where is the intensity? Gale in the background. An interesting love triangle that could provide so much more in the book.
Burgers and fries. Children and young people deserve so much more.