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First time I heard about these books was just before the film came out. This means when I started reading the first book (“Hunger Games”) I was under the misconception that this is a one-off book, with two sequels cashing in on the success. 250-odd pages I was all the wiser: this trilogy is a little bit of a cheat, there is no way anyone could stop reading when (s)he reaches the end of the first volume. Not that everybody would make it that far: the writing style is not sophisticated, the characters are not original, the emotions are not subtle. But the setting is great (the people have to pay tribute every year for starting a revolution ages ago by sending their children into battle to the death), and is used to imagine a pleasantly elaborated dystopian endgame. By elaborated I mean the game, the cunning details of setting off teenagers to battle each other in royal style (yes, of course, Battle Royale must be referenced here, as must be all these other media spectacles, from the German tv movie Millionenspiel over Rollerball through Running Man – you can all find them here, but that strange Japanese movie seems to be the closest relative). I do not mean society as such: you hardly learn anything about how people are, what they do, how they relate to these games. That is a deficit, as it does not really allow for empathy, it is also a strength, as it results from the very subjective narration. The narrator is the heroine of the story, she uses a present tense that allows the reader to expect the worst at any time (not seriously, though, we expect her to make it to … well, to make it for a very long time). Often she is ignorant of what’s happening around her. Sometimes she is knocked out and misses the showdown of wars and battles. It is these details and the courage to take her out of the action, the courage to be very bleak at times and to terribly cruel to even the most beloved characters that makes these books likeable. It does not  play to the expectations of sugarcoatededness that young adult novels frequently bend to. Sometimes the plot lines get a bit out of hand (especially when the author is balancing the various love interests of the coming-of-age heroine revolution leader). And building up to the third volume’s finale, there is a little bit too much of female Schwarzenegger going on. But despite the weaknesses, I could not put those books down until they were finished, until the battles were lost and won (and how true this is in this case). There are very few characters in the book that are terribly likeable (the heroine’s little sister maybe), but all these people are stuck in a dismal and dysfunctional world and deserve sympathy.

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  1. […] lack of hope, the lack of perspective and the fake illusion of splendour. I am not even saying that the books would provide that, I suppose they don’t in their rather straightforward story-telling way. But […]

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