The Hunger Games

I finished reading The Hunger Games this afternoon when I should have been learning some ancient Greek. I haven’t yet downloaded the other two books in the series, but I have to say it will not be all that long after I post this that I do. Also, I don’t want to say too much about the book right now, because when I watch the film, read Battle Royale, and re-watch Battle Royale the film, I will be comparing the two of them as far as I think the analysis will stretch. At this point, remembering the film from when I watched it something like a decade ago, I can understand why people choose to compare the two, but I feel that it is a very easy comparison which isn’t terribly rewarding. The concept of gladiatorial conflict was hardly new with BR (I can think of another 2000 film which also dealt with the topic, actually) and even if there is an influence on The Hunger Games the difference in approach and intention seems to me to support the necessity of variety over picking the better one.* But perhaps I don’t remember the intentions of BR very well. I do remember my sister saying that the book read like the wish fulfilment of a man who had wanted to murder his classmates. Then there is the different target audience, the different world in which we live post-11/09/2001, and with reality TV as it is now. I will say that I compared The Hunger Games mentally to the second episode of Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror, 15 Million Merits. But to be honest, I think that was at least in part the aesthetic of the trailer to the film of Hunger Games. Interesting, though, that people should be connecting reality TV and the ever-increasing polarization of the wealthy elite and the working classes on both sides of the Atlantic.

This is what I thought of The Hunger Games: it was a good start for children in their teens to start learning about social justice. To a far-left twenty-six year old perhaps the metaphor is obvious, even strained. But to a fifteen year old just starting to realise that there is an imbalance in this world, it could be much more potent.

The role of the Career tributes is one which I find fascinating, although perhaps under-explored in the way I had hoped it would be. To me, the Career Tributes were presented as those who had submitted to the dominance of the Capitol rather than those, like Katniss, who would rebel, or Peeta, desperate to retain his identity in their Games. I’m not sure if this was intentionally hinted, or if it was just my reading.

A review – or rather a mention on twitter – by Radio Times film editor Andrew Collins said that he felt that, in the film, the other tributes weren’t developed enough so that it was possible to care. In the book, with its first-person perspective, this is hardly surprising. But the aim of the Games is to divide – even the individual Districts – and to keep the lower classes fighting one another rather than the Capitol. Katniss cannot afford sympathy for the other Tributes, so how can we, seeing the Games through her eyes? I perhaps think that there could have been a greater element of menace to the other Tributes, but I am unsurprised by their (general) lack of development. It is a survival technique.

The after-effects of the Games on the Tributes is another under-explored area, although I suspect and hope the other books will explore this. Enough is said of Haymitch to hint that the psychological damage could be great, and one angle I had hardly considered is highlighted towards the end of the book. The descent into the necessary violence needed to survive would have to be traumatic, and whoever wins the Games must have killed at least one child – several seems more likely. The ill-effects of this I expect to see explored in Catching Fire and Mockingjay.

I liked Katniss. I’ve read some negative criticism of her, as well as some positive thoughts, but I understand the slightly bewildered response to being told that someone believes they are in love with you, and the possibly negative response which that can engender. She behaved, as far as I was concerned, like an ordinary teenager with too much on her hands, except perhaps for the obvious differences in her position:

Days of hunting and gathering for this one meal and even then it would be a poor substitute for the Capitol version. What must it be like, I wonder, to live in a world where food appears at the press of a button? How would I spend the hours I now commit to combing the woods for sustenance if it were so easy to come by? What do they do all day, these people in the Capitol, besides decorating their bodies and waiting around for a new shipment of tributes to roll in and die for their entertainment?

I did think, for most of the novel, that the love-story seemed tacked-in, especially the third angle. But then again, so did Katniss, it seems. It made sense to play the audience, and that the audience would be played by this. It also made sense that separation could make the heart grow fonder. I was happy to be following her through these games; definitely happier than I would have been following the sap Peeta, who I’m not entirely expecting to carry the film. Nonetheless, a book enjoyed. And more than I meant to said about it, now I come to think of it. More after I see the film on Wednesday! Apologies for indulging in hype…

* I will also confess a certain wariness which relates to the probability that people think Japan>America. Too much of me doubts the likelihood that the praise for Battle Royale is as simple as it being a better film.

A recommended tangent

I am resolved now to blog more regularly, and about more interesting things. Or about more themed things so that this blog has a purpose. At some point, I might even link it up to my facebook account so that people I know might actually read it. Might. After all, a couple of people I know already read it, even if one of them is related to me. It’s the other that’s a bit more pressing here, as in his blog he has accepted my “challenge” to try to read 52 books in a year (a challenge I have never achieved, excluding work related books, of course). This blog is an update on that theme: a state of the union type address, if you will, to my attempt to read quite a bit this year.

The last book on which I reported was The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin which, in case you missed it and you can’t click on that link, I adored because I am a “secret” anarchist.* Since then I have read five novels, all of which were very good, and Mark Steel’s In Town, which had its charms; this puts me on seven novels, God is Not Great (partly last year) and In Town, eight and a half in week 11. Behind, already!

Not to mention the fact that I have sort-of cheated. When behind, I have a tendency to pick books which are shorter – the last novel was How to be Topp by Geoffrey Williams and the recently deceased Ronald Searle. In order to get a taste of this novel, I recommend this obitury of Searle, written in the style of the protagonist of How to be Topp N. Molesworth. I had read the preceding Molesworth tale,** Down with Skool!, at the end of last year, and, while I enjoyed it, it hadn’t been quite as spectacular as my brother, who loaned me the book, had led me to believe. How to be Topp, however, really delivered – I’m not sure if that’s because I was in a better mood for it, or if because it had a greater focus on Latin teachers, but the series is well worth sticking with.

Before this, I read a book loaned to me by my sister, Treasures of Time by Penelope Lively. As with How to be Topp, it is possible that my appreciation of this book was based on the connections which it has to my own experiences, in that it concerned the filming of a BBC documentary focused on the exploits of an archaeologist, and one of the protagonists was reading for a DPhil at the University of Oxford (although admittedly not actually in archaeology). Still, there was a reason why Penguin included this book in their Decades series.

As these books have somewhat faded into memory, I’m going to go off on something of a tangent. I started to read this article about the books/film The Hunger Games earlier tonight, but it was really long and I wanted to write this blog. So I stopped. But I got far enough to read the point that most of the books we read are on the recommendation of friends and family, not based on any advertising which publishers can actually do. As the past two books which I have mentioned were loans, I appear to fit this pattern. In fact, going back through this year’s list, we find: The Citadel of the Autarch by Gene Wolfe (recommended by a friend, although I didn’t trust him so it took me about ten years to get around to reading any Wolfe); The Handmaid’s Tale by Margret Atwood (my mother’s copy, I believe, and recommended by my entire family, although it took me a while, again); The Sign of Four by Arthur Conan Doyle (recommended by everyone, of course); The Dispossessed (my brother loaned me the Earthsea books a couple of years ago, and I fell in love with Le Guin); A Study in Scarlet (somewhat covered).

On the other hand, I don’t know if anyone I have actually met has read The Hunger Games.*** This is annoying, because I realised while reading that article that if someone told me to I would read the first book right now – I’m between novels, and I’m still mildly disappointed with myself for putting off the Harry Potter books for so long. I dimly recall my brother saying that someone said that they weren’t very good, but lots of people said that the Harry Potter books weren’t very good too, and I really enjoyed them. This includes the friend who recommended The Book of the New Sun, which might be why I put off reading them for so long.

But on the other hand negative criticism has kept me from reading the Twilight books, which (aside from my desire to write an in-depth critique comparing them to Buffy) seems to have been a good thing. So should I ignore the half-remembered criticism, and go with the flow?

In the interests of fairness, I ought to point out that I read the first page of Twilight and was put off, while reading (about) three pages of the kindle preview of Hunger Games made me want to read it, so I won’t take much prompting. But I was somewhat surprised by the analysis of my reading habits, and how (anecdotally, of course) I appear to fit the publisher’s pattern.

* I was asked by a friend the other day if I was a secret anarchist – I pointed out that my political views on Facebook are listed as “anarchist”, so it’s hardly a secret. Really, of course, my anarchism is ideological (and based on V and Shevek, not Kropotkin and Chomski) rather than active or practical. I actually discuss this a bit in the post onĀ The Dispossessed, take a look.

** I say “tale” – the Molesworth books are not really stories, although there are elements of narrative to them.

*** One of my twitter followers has, though. She seemed to enjoy them. Her blog is here, I haven’t read much of it though (sorry Amy). [EDIT: I had a look at Amy’s blog out of guilt, and came across this, which is a great entry. You should read it: /EDIT]

Dirk Harder

Without the lynchpin that was Sherlock, it appears that this blog fell into disuse. Sorry, blog. Although most of my traffic still seems to come from people looking at the Sherlock pages on the BBC website. Not that that’s a lot of traffic, but – double figures! Anyway, then I got some new followers, one of them read this blog, made a comment about it, and I felt like I ought to carry on with it. As I’ve mostly blogged* about TV stuff, it seems appropriate that I continue in that vein.

Dirk Gently was the creation of the eternal genius and much missed Douglas Adams, the result of an incompleted episode of Doctor Who called Shada and probably a few dozen missed deadlines. Dirk is a detective, but no normal detective – he is a holistic detective, he solves the whole crime. In many ways Dirk is the anti-Sherlock, in that rather than taking all the clues and forming them into the only possible solution to the crime, Dirk takes hold of a seemingly random thread and, through the principles of quantum mechanics which show the fundamental interconnectivity of all things, pulls on it until the case is solved. After the original Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency followed the (frankly) inferior Long, Dark Tea-Time of the Soul before a final, incomplete outing in The Salmon of Doubt, during the writing of which came Adams’ untimely death ten years ago.

Just before Christmas in 2010 the BBC produced an hour and a half pilot for a Dirk Gently TV series, based on the first book and starring Stephen Mangan, which was pretty good although it didn’t really make clear the more science-fictional elements of the Dirk Gently story. It felt a bit like an episode of Doctor Who, although not as much like one as it probably should have given the book’s origins as an episode of Doctor Who. It was enjoyable and led to me actually reading the books, but to be honest if I didn’t follow Stephen Mangan on twitter I probably wouldn’t have noticed that the series began on BBC four last week.

Prior to the start of the series I discovered that the show was produced by Howard Overman, the man who created the glorious anti-superhero series Misfits. This had led me to think that Dirk Gently has a vital role in our TV schedule, which is to be the anti-Sherlock. It obviously can’t be as sweary or dirty as Misfits, but it can be something other than Sherlock, something a bit more fun and a bit less inadvertently sexist, perhaps. I suspect that I am heaping too many expectations on the show, though.

The first episode of the series was, I thought, fantastic – better than the pilot in that it wasn’t so overwhelmed by source material, fun, interconnected, and entertaining. The second episode, I would say, wasn’t clever enough, which could lead to problems further down the line. There’s a lack of understanding, I suppose, in what makes a holistic detective, and the possibility that he will just become another Sherlock. When Dirk dismisses a case as boring in the first episode, he ends up taking it – but only because it becomes more interesting, rather than because he needs the money. It’s true that Dirk mostly takes quirkier cases (although there are a lot of lost cats) but it would be better if things were a bit more interconnected in less obvious ways. The second episode did have a lot more women in it too, even if they didn’t speak to one another. Better than Sherlock managed….

* I hate the fact that I am using “blog” as a verb here, by the way. It’s not as bad as “text”, but seriously, there are times and places for verbing, and that is only when it weirds language.