The classic BATTLE ROYALE has a deep and abiding place in my heart, so when I was told the basic premise of the THE HUNGER GAMES, I was offended, not by the plot, but by the fact Suzanne Collins claimed to never even have read BATTLE ROYALE. Also, somebody suggested my books had a lot in common with THE HUNGER GAMES, which I interpreted as saying I ripped her off.
What other books did this remind me of? Remember ISLAND OF THE BLUE DOLPHINS? An unforgettable horror story about a young girl abandoned on an island with her little brother. Her brother gets eaten by feral dogs, and the girl hunts the dogs down with her bow, saving only one puppy.
Literary homage is the highest praise, so while I would find nothing at all shameful in emulating Koushon Takamini or any other writer, I am offended by an unattributed homage. It is dishonest on several important levels. So I hesitated to read THE HUNGER GAMES, and am also extremely busy and don’t like starting books because reading them disrupts my life. For instance, i would love to read that fifteen thousand page thing that is on premium cable now, the one with the swords and the dwarf that likes prostitutes. I’ve read a couple of parts, but darn it, as trivial as it is, I have an existence beyond reading that series, which is as addictive as crack.
THE HUNGER GAMES is an homage alright–of THE CATCHER IN THE RYE, at least that is what I remember thinking. Katniss stands between her younger sister, and then later, Rue, and an adulthood she finds understandably repellent. Holden Caulfield was a fairly selfish and representative type of prep school weasel, but at least he was a failure as a prep-schooler, which made him likeable. With Katniss, her love for her little sister is her one true thing. When she imagines quitting and dying during the Hunger Games, she is motivated more by the horror of knowing her sister will watch it than the fear of losing her own life.
Is there an element of BATTLE ROYALE in THE HUNGER GAMES? After seeing the movie, which I saw before I read the book, I definitely thought “yes”. After reading the book, I’m less convinced it’s important. These are definitely two distinct books. Collins hits this compelling note of understated satire I tried to get to with the ZWO Series, so I have to give her kudos for this. She doesn’t rub your nose in it, but I expect her political views would be fairly informed, at least in the sense she gets the point.
As literature, she evokes an emotional response well crafted writing can evoke. While reading, on at least two occasions, my glasses became a bit fogged up, and I had to remove them and clean them (while thinking manly thoughts of course). Also, I must admit to at least one authentic lip quiver, and I am not a person whose lips quiver easily. Of course, all of this took place in a completely manly context. True, my seasonal allergies may have contributed to a teary-eyed condition, but that could hardly be construed as weakness. I do admit, however, these conditions popped up on two sections of the book, which I would have read continuously if I was not interrupted by life, namely ,the part about Rue’s death, of course, and the part in the beginning about how the baker boy saved her life with a loaf of bread. Maybe I wasn’t ready for it, but Collins set me up and then landed a knockout punch while going deep on the two most critical relationships in the book. By explaining Rue, she explains her younger sister and herself. The book just works after that.
Will I read the second one? Of course. Even if the sequels disappoint, as Steven King recently wrote, I still have to know where she is going with the book, since she seems to have set it up masterfully, if I’m correct about the possible direction. Regardless, Part One is a stand-alone book anyway, and I have nothing but respect for this accomplishment.