Friday 24 May 2019

Review: Fiction: The Hunger Games Trilogy Box Set by Suzanne Collins

Scholastic, €19.99
Available withfree P&P or bycalling 091 709350

Word spread quickly when The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins, was first published in 2008. There were wildfire murmurs and rumbles in the world of books for young people -- a current of excitement that said 'here is something very original and exciting'.

Fans had to wait a whole year for its sequel Catching Fire, and in 2010 Mockingjay completed this dystopian trilogy. The success of the series has been phenomenal with more than 2.9 million copies of the Hunger Games books now in print, over one million copies sold as ebooks, and rights to the novel have been sold in 38 territories.

Now the film, based on the first book, is being released next weekend and the excitement (not to mention books sales and the many movie-spin-offs) is mounting.

So, what's it all about? The core of the novel is a reality TV show -- broadcast live over several weeks, where 24 teenagers are imprisoned in a vast outdoor arena and must either kill each other or die. The winner's prize is survival.

Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen lives in Panem, a country of the future set in what was once North America.

Katniss lives with her mother and younger sister in District 12, a poor coal-mining region where life is harsh and brutal and there is not enough to eat. The districts are ruled from afar by the all-powerful leaders of the Capitol.

The savage Hunger Games is both 'a punishment for the uprising' and a device created to remind people of how totally they are at the mercy of the authorities. Every year, one boy and one girl from each district are chosen by lottery to face each other in this violent showdown.

This imagined world features an interesting blend of historical and futuristic elements. Katniss is a brave hunter-gatherer, living on her wits in the forbidden forest with her hunting buddy, Gale.

They kill animals, collect plants and berries and barter for other basic foodstuffs. Collins has described Katniss as a futuristic Theseus.

The actual 'games' are reminiscent of the gladiatorial battles of ancient Rome -- the protagonists even enter the arena by horse-drawn chariot.

The ultra-modern Capitol, however, is a hi-tech, glossy metropolis and every inch of the battleground is caught on camera.

The Hunger Games is a hybrid comprising many modern cultural references. It has the voyeuristic magnetism of the original Big Brother TV show, the deprivation and reward system of I'm a Celebrity ... get me out of here, the glamour of Next Top Model and the harshness and the tragedy of a war documentary.

Add a few more elements, such as an obsession with food and a star-crossed romance and it's clear to see that this heady mix ticks a lot of boxes for a young audience.

And there is an original take on the star-crossed lover dilemma: you can't fancy him because you have to kill him. The boy chosen from District 12, Peeta, is kind and attractive . . . or is he simply trying to charm and weaken his opponent?

From the first chapter you are drawn into Katniss Everdeen's life. This is not only a highly original plot set in a credible socio-political world, it is also very well written, unfolding at a satisfying pace and with surprising twists.

Book Two, Catching Fire, picks up the survivor story but the authorities are not happy about an incident in the Hunger Games arena.

There are rumours of a rebellion against the Capitol. Cue more violence, romance . . . and survivors.

The story continues apace and the reader is not let down. Bloggers and fans protested at having to wait another 12 months for the concluding book, but their patience was rewarded 18 months ago with Mockingjay.

Once again Katniss plays a crucial role in the final battle. She becomes the Mockingjay -- the symbol of rebellion. Against all odds, she has survived the Hunger Games twice.

But now that she's made it out of the bloody arena alive, she's still not safe. The Capitol is angry. The Capitol wants revenge . . . it's an exhilarating finale to a ground-breaking trilogy, now available in a handsome box set.

Collins had a successful career writing for children's television in the US before making her mark in children's literature with the bestselling Underland Chronicles.

The idea for The Hunger Games came to her as she surfed between television channels showing real war coverage and reality television programmes. Collins also co-wrote the screenplay and produced the movie.

The anticipation and excitement about the upcoming Hunger Games movie is further fuelled by a terrific cast. The character of Katniss is played by Jennifer Lawrence, who came to everyone's attention with her powerful performance in Winter's Bone (2010).

Peeta, Katniss' District 12 opponent in the Hunger Games arena, is played by Josh Hutcherson, star of Bridge to Terabithia (2007) and The Kids are Alright (2010). Her hunting-buddy, Gale, is played by Liam Hemsworth, heart-throb Josh Taylor from Neighbours (2007-8).

Let the Games begin . . . and the book sales continue to soar.

Paddy O'Doherty is a board member of Children's Books Ireland.

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