Venue: Arcadia Bar
Date: Sunday, 19th of August 2012
Time: 5pm – 7pm
In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. The Capitol is harsh and cruel and keeps the districts in line by forcing them all to send one boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen to participate in the annual Hunger Games, a fight to the death on live TV.
Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who lives alone with her mother and younger sister, regards it as a death sentence when she steps forward to take her sister’s place in the Games. But Katniss has been close to dead before—and survival, for her, is second nature. Without really meaning to, she becomes a contender. But if she is to win, she will have to start making choices that will weigh survival against humanity and life against love
Although the book this month was The Hunger Games, first in a trilogy, most of the group had either already read all three books, or did so this month. I read the three in about four days, so they kind of blurred into each other, and the discussion ended up roaming across the whole trilogy leaving one or two people a bit confused. Anyway, you should know that there may well be spoilers for all three of the books here.
The Hunger Games has really been a bit of a phenomenon in the YA fiction world, its build in popularity culminating in the release of a film adaptation in March this year. Several of us commented that whilst we enjoyed it, reading it as adults was definitely a different experience than the one we would have had reading it as teens. We found we read it in a different way: we enjoyed figuring out which Panem districts corresponded to which areas of North America, and drawing (sometimes unflattering) comparisons with similar works we’d read.
Even as adults, though, many of us found The Hunger Games surprisingly graphic in its violence – one member didn’t actually believe when he started reading that the Games would go ahead, and another thought death as a central concept for a ‘children’s’ book was very strange. We thought the violence was actually made more palatable thanks to the reality TV-style device of the Games; as the Panem president points out at some point, the Games give the inhabitants of the districts hope. If he just took 24 kids each year and shot them in the head, it would probably have a slightly different effect on morale. We also found the psychological aspect of the violence unsettling, in particular the eyes of the big dogs, and the history of the tracker jackers.
The main character, Katniss, remained something of an enigma even after three books in the first person. We thought many of the supporting characters were actually more rounded than she is, perhaps reflecting Katniss’ dislike of talking about herself. Still, we seemed to like her in general, finding her quite sharp and funny in a very dry way, if a little cold and emotionally immature. We thought her reasons for volunteering for the Games to be admirable, although we questioned her personal morals as she regularly acted based on what the audience would like to see rather than based on what she thought was right. She was compared to Harry Potter, as a character that regularly makes mistakes, but grows and learns. Beyond this, we didn’t have a lot to say about her, which is probably a bit unusual for a character that murders several teenagers. We thought it helped that her weapon of choice, the bow and arrow, was quite an indirect weapon; had
she been running around slicing people’s throats, we might not have felt so lenient. We also liked that she focussed on survival skills more than adding new, violent tricks to her arsenal in the training. Having said that, when she did kill it was often in cold blood, and the incident with the tracker jackers in particular chilled a few of us.
Peeta seemed to be a real favourite among the supporting characters (for the ladies, at least). He was described as honest and kind, and he seemed to be a lot more concerned with the ethics of the Hunger Games that Katniss was. Katniss simply wanted to live through it, whilst Peeta wanted his integrity to survive. Most preferred Peeta to Gale, who they saw as a bit sulky and a bit extreme in his views. Everyone liked Haymitch as
a character too, and wanted to see more of him. We felt he was the only one who saw the Games for how terrible they were, and was genuinely disgusted at the situation and the role he had to play in it. We thought he and Katniss were very similar, which added to his appeal.
When it came to the concept and how well it worked, there was a bit of debate. Some found it too contrived and therefore not believable: it seemed a bit gimmicky to them and they couldn’t believe that such a system could exist without a rebellion having risen up earlier. One reader, who had recently read The Running Man for another book club, said that he simply thought King had done a better job of a similar concept. Others leapt to the book’s defence, pointing out that actually we have seen similar oppressive governments in the past, and that Collins does a reasonably good job of explaining why the Capitol hasn’t been overthrown in the past – the population is largely uneducated, some districts actually like the Hunger Games, and train their children to compete, communications between the districts are heavily restricted, and the inhabitants of the districts are largely too hungry and tired from manual labour to be staging coups. Regardless, everyone agreed that you do need to buy into the history and the political situation if you’re going to enjoy the book.
Overall, book clubbers generally agreed that the story was better than the writing. There was a wide spread of rates – a few really enjoyed it, a few were distinctly underwhelmed but most lingered around the middle ground, acknowledging that had they read the series as teens, they would have been a lot more enthusiastic.
Contact the bar on @ArcadiaBar