I bought it in the airport, read the first 20 pages or so, and promptly left it in the pocket on the back of the seat in front of me. I didn't manage to find another copy until about a week later, but it's not as if I'd had much time for reading anyway, what with navigating myself and two children past the transatlantic jetlag and around the local parks of Cardiff while my husband attended a conference. I bought it again in Dubray Books in the Blackrock Shopping Center in south county Dublin, along with a Oliver Jeffers for Monkey and a tiny box-set of Charlie and Lola books for Mabel. And then I read it rather quickly. Indeed, it was a page turner. My husband, having finished his own reading matter, picked it up and was immediately engrossed. It's that sort of book. It pulls you in from the instant you start, and tosses and turns you over and over until you're dizzy, but you keep going.
Yesterday I finished the third and final book of the series, Mockingjay. (The middle one is Catching Fire.) My husband finished it the night before that. So now I think I can discuss them here - and they've been out long enough to qualify as "old-hat" in my review series, right?
If you haven't yet read them, there will be some spoilers ahead, but nothing too vital.
The biggest question I had was why I wasn't more traumatised by the horrible images of violence and suffering in the books. Terrible, horrific things happen, the sort of things you don't want to dwell on lest you wake in the middle of the night, and yet, I was able to gloss over them and keep reading without them entering my brain and scarring me.
It might be because I know they're YA books, and I scorn anything that's "popular fiction" rather than "literary fiction". Except that I love YA, especially YA fantasy - ever since I was pulled into the wardrobe with Lucy and Edward, since I entered the hole in the ground where a hobbit lived, ever since I read Alan Garner's Elidor, I've loved this sort of thing and happily suspended my disbelief along with my sense of time passing and my need for a snack or a bathroom break or to go to sleep until I found out how it ended.
It might be because I'm grown up now, and the books that I read and re-read as a teen just don't stay with me and become part of me the way books did then. Except that I read Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials series, and the Susan Cooper books, and Earthsea, not to mention all of Harry Potter, as an adult, and consumed them eagerly and without criticism. (Because at heart I'm a terrible literary critic - I could never get the hang of it and its pretentious vocabulary, despite my BA in English.)
I came to the conclusion that it's because the Hunger Games books are plot-driven, not character-driven. Maybe this was a conscious decision on the part of Suzanne Collins, because honestly, it would be impossible to write it more deeply and (a) cover all the material she covered and (b) leave your audience actually wanting to keep reading. I think you keep going, and you see these horrific images on the surface of your brain, but they don't penetrate because there are more words and you're just moving right along here and not thinking about any of it too hard. I didn't really identify deeply with the heroine, didn't feel a part of her despite the first-person narration. Maybe the present tense narrative made it easier to rush on ahead and not dwell on what had just happened.
I can't help wondering how they'll portray these horrible events - people being mauled to death by wild animals, consumed by acid, or having their flesh melted off by a beam of light, to pick a few at random - in the movies, without creating a horror to rival the Saw movies (which I have no intention of ever seeing) and getting an R rating. They'll have to dumb down a lot of the horror, and will presumably up the love-triangle aspect instead, but I wonder will it lose its punch as a result and become just another alternate-universe love story.
I can't even figure out what you would do to fix this sense of being slightly removed from the action, if you wanted to, which in this case I don't think anyone really should. But as an aspiring writer, it interests me. When a Dick Francis character is kicked in the ribs, breaks a bone, falls from a galloping horse (as they frequently do; Francis's heroes have amazing pain tolerance and live dangerously), I gasp and wince in sympathetic pain. But when Katniss is hurt, I just gloss over it. Is it overload, because she gets hurt so much? Is Francis so much a better writer than Collins? Or is there something obvious I'm missing about how this works?
If you have an opinion, I'd love to hear it.