So, The Hunger Games. I haven’t had the free time to read them until the last couple of weeks, which left me out of many debates, mostly between people trying to put their finger on what, exactly, bothered them about this series. And now, because everybody else has moved on, I will try to articulate my response to that problem in a blog.
Because it’s true that as a story, they are very good. Children murdering each other! Creepy wolf mutations made out of aforementioned dead children! Dystopian politics, mind games and rebellions! A love triangle!
The problem, for me, was that there was just not a single ounce of subtlety. Absolutely everything was explained to an excruciating degree. Every metaphor came with a giant parade several floats long, declaring “Look everyone! Over here! Do you see me? I AM A METAPHOR.”
It was all just so heavy handed. Like this moment, detailing Katniss’ inner turmoil in book one:
I avoid looking at anyone as I take tiny spoonfuls of fish soup. The saltiness reminds me of my tears.
Excuse me while I vomit everywhere.
Or this moment:
But if this is Prim’s, I mean, Rue’s last request, I have to at least try.
Because did you know that Rue reminds Katniss of Prim? It’s kind of a secret that she only mentions every time the girl shows up. Let me just take a moment to prove this, because seriously, the heavy-handedness bothered me, and this is just one example of over-explained symbolism among many.
When she first arrives, Katniss observes:
… she’s very like Prim in size and demeanour.
Then when she learns her name a few chapters later, a subtle comparison is made once again. But careful, you might miss it:
Rue is a small yellow flower that grows in the Meadow. Rue. Primrose.
In case putting their names side by side isn’t enough to make the comparison clear, Katniss later spells it out for us once more:
But I want her. Because she’s a survivor, and I trust her, and why not admit it? She reminds me of Prim.
Why not indeed? You know we really hadn’t noticed that before, Katniss. By the end, it’s not really a surprise that she gives up on any kind of narrative and just says “Prim, whoops, I mean Rue.” Because, at that point, there’s really no use even pretending that there is any kind of subtlety going on here.
When Katniss starts talking about everything their “ancestors” did to screw things up, it gets so excruciating I can barely keep reading:
I mean, look at the state they left us in, with the wars and the broken planet. Clearly, they didn’t care about what would happen to the people who came after them.
Man. It’s almost like the entire series was created to make a point about the decline of a contemporary society which is concerned only with public image, entertainment, and who has the most powerful weapons.
Unfortunately, while all of Katniss’s thoughts and emotions are explained to an absurd degree, there are also a lot of things that are left completely unexplained, or just feel really rushed. Like the last part of Catching Fire – after the first two parts built the tension and established that whole rebellion plot, everything in the arena was very quick and hard to follow (there’s a dirty joke in there somewhere).
Sure, portraying a plot which is out of the main character’s hands and which she herself has no idea about (despite all the unbelievably obvious clues) is difficult with a first-person narrative. But even the stuff Katniss did understand was kind of rushed through. I swear the rest of the tributes died every other paragraph, and then the penultimate chapter was basically just “EVERYONE TURNS ON EACH OTHER NO WAIT EXPLOSIONS” and then it was over and I was confused.
The same thing often happened in Mockingjay. After the first two parts were just following Katniss around while she acted really stupid (this time other characters were ALSO following her around while she acted really stupid, with CAMERAS, to make PROPOS, which just made me giggle every time they were mentioned in a serious situation, because that is an unnecessarily comic name), all the action in the final part was rushed and badly explained.
Finnick dies before we even remember he’s there, and Prim shows up for about a line before she’s blown up in front of Katniss’ very eyes.
I mean, I have a lot of respect for Suzanne Collins for going ahead and killing Prim. I wasn’t sure she’d have the balls to do it. But was there really no build up whatsoever? She just showed up for no reason then exploded? Okay.
And that’s the real issue I had. There was so much potential for these books to be fantastic, but they just kept finding new ways to annoy me. When they should have been focusing on the rebellion and the politics of the dystopian world, they were focusing on who Katniss enjoyed kissing more. When they should have been all action and horror, it was rushed and then we were back to Katniss explaining her feelings and not understanding anything that happens around her.
And when it was really good – such as in the final chapters, when everything had fallen apart, Prim was dead, there was so much moral ambiguity that no one could be considered truly good anymore, especially not Katniss herself – even then, it still managed to annoy me. I was so excited – my first post here was about how much I like it when characters are killed off, and admittedly the series did not shy away from that. Sure, the novel was kind of lame up to that point but it was finally getting something right! Katniss’ narration didn’t get on my nerves at all when she genuinely seemed to have lost her grip on reality after everything she had been put through. But then suddenly she decided that she could live with it after all? And the cheesiest final lines ever written happened? And then she and Peeta had kids in the stupidest 20-years-on epilogue since Albus Severus Potter?
And there were some really great parts too. The plot of the actual Hunger Games in the first book. The rebellion scenes in Catching Fire (even if Katniss was kind of oblivious to their significance). The genuinely dark moments of Mockingjay which, unfortunately, were often never brought up again. How much Peeta loved bread.
And because of that, despite making fun of it consistently all over twitter, I couldn’t hate it too much. Let’s be fair: it was still way, way better than Twilight.