The Hunger Games
To give a brief synopsis The Hunger Games takes place in a dystopian future in what I understood to be the Appalachian regions of America. At some point in the past twelve Districts started a rebellion against the Capital, and as punishment they now participate in a yearly "reaping" in which two adolescents from each district are randomly selected to participate in The Hunger Games, a Big Brother type reality TV series which it is compulsory to watch. It's not a popularity contest though, the object of the games is to kill all other opponents and emerge the victor.When her little sister is selected against the odds, Katniss Everdeen volunteers to take her place.
I'll start with what's right about The Hunger Games, it is an utterly compelling, riveting novel. I started the thing at 6PM last night, I finished it at 22.41 exactly. I couldn't tear myself away from it, I'm pretty certain I didn't even go to the toilet. Katniss Everdeen makes a great hero and other characters like Rue, Peeta and even Foxface are intriguing in their own right. It is easy to see why Jennifer Lawrence was picked to play Katniss in the forthcoming film. In the early portion of the novel the life of Katniss echoes that of Ree Dolly in Winters Bone, a part which Lawrence played so successfully. One advantage of reading the novel with Lawrence in mind means that when the film is released this March, the character of Katniss won't look "wrong" as opposed to the picture in my minds eye. Once she leaves District 12 however, Lawrence as Katniss has an opportunity to play a new and interesting part.
The Reality TV aspect of things is really interesting. In the Capitol this show isn't about poverty stricken children murdering one another to win food for their area. It's entertainment. With some of the things that get put on television in 2011, I did wonder how many years we have to go before something like this happens. I really enjoyed this novel which was suspenseful and thrilling throughout, it will make an excellent film, if they do it "right". The teaser trailer for The Hunger Games is here
But, The Hunger Games has a problem, and that problem is the 1999 Japanese novel Battle Royale by Koushun Takami which was later made into an extremely successful film in 2000 by Kinji Fukasaku. Battle Royale takes place in a totalitarian dystopian Japan, in which high school children are sent into a forest with one objective, kill each other and be the last one standing. I've seen the film but I've not read the book. The essential difference between the two is that The Hunger Games is a reality TV show and Battle Royale is a military research program and is not televised but the purpose is the same it is "a means of terrorizing the population, of creating such paranoia as to make organized insurgency impossible".
Though the run up to the start of the Games, and the section at the end of the novel differ entirely from Battle Royale; the competition, which takes place in the forest, is extremely similar with only very minor differences. It is so similar as to make me wonder whether Takami should sue Collins. It is entirely possible of course that neither Collins nor her publisher had seen or heard of Battle Royale, and the entire thing is a massive coincidence. Which would be a damn shame for Collins because a) It would be terrible to find out that you thought you had this great original idea but someone beat you to it and b) You could never plausibly prove that you hadn't seen Battle Royale prior to your book being published.
On my Twitter feed last night I put something like Hunger Games. GENIUS. But I didn't really mean that it terms of originality, I meant it as a reading experience. It just sucks you in so completely, it is a page turner in the truest sense of the expression. I described it to someone as "like reading Battle Royale as a book" before I was even aware Battle Royale was based upon a book, so this is another reason why Takami should potentially sue. It makes me wonder whether he is aware of The Hunger Games, but if he isn't he very soon will be. Some people have said The Hunger Games is "Battle Royale for kids" but I'm 30 and found it actually equally violent in parts, this is an example of a "teen novel" that actually crosses over into "universal appeal" if you can forgive its one big problem that is. My guess is that most Battle Royale fans won't.
For originality 5/10
For actual reading enjoyment 9.5/10