The Games People Play... and Watch
here, here and here). There is a slight case of the law of diminishing returns with them... but I was so impressed with the first one that the second and third instalments had an extremely hard act to follow.
Some reviewers have been a little condescending about the central premise of the first book, which has the children of conquered districts of a post-apocalyptic America (or Panem) taking part in what is effectively televised gladiatorial combat. This is not a novel idea... But it well textured and well told, especially given that it is essentially a piece of teen fiction, with appropriate parallels to contemporary TV "talent/reality" shows as well as to ancient Rome. It may be centred around the violence of the eponymous "Hunger Games" but nowhere does it buy into the myth of redemptive violence that is so all-pervading in American, and indeed western culture... It pulls no punches in the description of that violence, nor does it brush off the long-term psychological consequences of such violence. Indeed it was interesting to see that in the movie of the first book they did not show the physical consequences of the violence, but it didn't shy away from the horror of it. In the second book the scope of the narrative pans out to look at the nature of any society which would have such games at its heart... painting the picture of a brutal dictatorship... but in the third the rebels are not romantically painted in glowing terms (akin to the rebel alliance facing the evil empire in Star Wars) but are shown to be just as brutal as the regime they oppose, playing by similar rules. They may not have children fight to the death in an arena but are happy to use them as soldiers.
There is a maturity in these books that is absent from much modern literature and movies. And they offer a window not just on a dystopian future that is not too far removed from where we are now, but also on the wider world in which we live, where children are regularly used as soldiers and a large proportion of the population of the world is constantly hungry, while we, like the inhabitants of the Capitol, overindulge our appetites and are mesmerised by the media... Watching young people (often from disadvantaged backgrounds, because that makes for a better story) compete with each other to achieve fame and fortune...
In the third book, after the war is over the former producer of the Hunger Games, who had transferred his talents to covering the rebellion (in a viewer-friendly fashion) talks about a new idea he has for a broadcast singing competition... Even before I got that far, a combination of these books and the joyous experience of watching the Olympics and Paralympics over the summer had left me very jaundiced with regard to most of what passes for entertainment on TV the rest of the time, including X-Factor (which I rarely watched anyway), Britain's Got Talent (which is more and more like a televised freak-show), Big Brother (whatever channel it is on) or indeed, Premiership Football... Actually, I've largely stopped watching TV at all except for news and one or two other programmes. Instead I've gone back to reading... And I feel much better for it. What is the old computer adage? GIGO. Garbage in, Garbage out.
Now some of what I have been reading has been garbage, but that's not the case with these books... they are a good read whatever age you are... And God help us if we don't turn this world around before the imaginings of this book become a reality... because it genuinely could happen...