Monthly Archives: January 2012

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

The Hunger Games - Suzanne CollinsThe Hunger Games – Suzanne Collins
Scholastic, 2009
Buy: Amazon | Bookdepository * 

I finished reading The Hunger Games yesterday and given my recent habit to avoid writing posts about books right away, and then ending up being at a loss what exactly I wanted to say, I am trying to change that around from now on. But I have to admit, I am nervous about writing this post. Why? Well, I did not love this like so many others. Going through the list of GoodReads friends who have read The Hunger Games, and trust me there are a lot, there are remarkably little below 5-star ratings. While, um, my own is around 3-3,5.

Do I need to tell you the plot of this novel? I doubt anyone does not have a general idea. A dystopian society: the nation of Panem built from what used to be North America. There are 12 districts, in which products are produced for the ruling body located at the “centre”, the Capitol. The districts once rebelled against the Capitol, the Capitol won, obliterated district 13 and sort-of “enslaved” the other 12. Now, every year, each district has to provide one girl and one boy between 12 and 18, “the tributes”, to fight in the Hunger Games. What are the Hunger Games, you may ask? Well, these 24 children fight each other to the death, the last one standing wins, with a lifetime of money to provide for themselves and their family. Katniss Everdeen, the main character of The Hunger Games is the tribute for district 12, together with Peeta.

While I found the first 50 pages awkward to read at times (there was a lot of repeating of events or explanations, lots of insinuated stuff that later on apparently had to be explained word for word to make sure the reader had understood the previous hints), there was a truly addictive quality to this book. I finished it in less than a day. As a reader, you also start to care deeply for Katniss. There is something about her (despite my having some problems with her characterisation, see Renay’s fabulous post) that makes you want to protect her from life, at times, that makes you want to make sure she’ll be okay, she’ll survive.

What didn’t I love? I think it comes down to this: there is so much potential in this story, potential to have the reader reflect on a few issues: The obvious theme of growing up in violence, the intertwinement of politics and economy, violence and the question of when murder becomes murder, the tendency of Katniss and the Capitol to judge districts on names/status, the whole issue of conditioning Katniss to love/kiss Peeta for support.. There is SO MUCH Collins could have done with this story, but to me it fell flat exactly because she never invites the reader “in”. Something about the story was too straightforward to my taste, there is a retelling of events, and that’s it. It is almost as if the issues that could have been raised are just skipped over, which makes the whole portrayal a bit problematic for me, especially the Katniss/Peeta/Haymitch dynamic. There is a hint of reflection on Haymitch’s drunkenness as a coping mechanism for the violence he went through, but this is the only time there’s any sort of reflection in the novel. Do not get me wrong, I do not want an author to shove a message in your face, a dum-dum-dum SEE, here’s my MESSAGE, here’s THE THEME. Actually, I dislike those type of stories. I do not think Collins needs to have a message, even. But, to me, there was something missing in that the story never becomes more than a retelling of events (albeit with having the reader feel sympathy for Katniss). Apart from feeling sympathy, I was never asked to engage with the story.

There is also a question of the world-building in general. I know many have praised Collins for it, but there were moments where I was not convinced.. A little more detail would not have gone amiss, I think. Collins teases that things will become more complex in the future, with the plastic surgery in the Capitol, with the traces of rebellion from Katniss & district 11, with the tension between the meaning of the games for Capitol residents and district residents.. I just hope these things will be explored.

Perhaps it were my high expectations going into this book, but I had just expected something more..  somehow.

[minor spoilers]

Will I read the sequels? Yes, I will. I care enough about Katniss and Prim to want to know what Collins comes up with. I also hope the world-building and discussion of it will improve. There were some strong hints in this novel that district 13 was not destroyed (hello, repeating that it was destroyed 4 times in a row). Supposedly there is a love-triangle in this story. I have seen the whole “team Peeta” and “team Gale” going around online.. I personally felt that it was a bit contrived, and certainly not at the centre of the story. At this point, I don’t think I really care who Katniss ends up with. Actually, I rather enjoyed her “I won’t marry and have children” stance, that’s quite refreshing in a YA heroine, except I’m afraid it is a foreshadowing that she will.

Other Opinions: Lady business, The Parchment Girl, The Wertzone, Books Distilled, Caribousmom, Dear Author, The Reading Zone, Realms of Speculative Fiction, Puss Reboots, Booklover Book Reviews, Opinions of a Wolf, Rebecca Reads, Hey Lady, Watcha Readin’?, Bookshelves of Doom, Eclectic/Eccentric, Jen Robinson’s Book Page, The Reading Life, Rhapsody in Books, Lesa’s Book Critiques, Literate Housewife, Hope is the Word, The Literary Omnivore, Care’s Online Book Club, A Working Title, There’s a Book, Only the Best Scifi, Bookworm’s Dinner, Child Lit Book Club, Books 4 Breakfast, Books and Movies, Semincolon, Reading Through Life, Reader Rabbit, Gimme More Books,, Take Me Away Reading, SciFiGuy, Becky’s Book Reviews, Book Chatter, Book Addiction,  I’m Booking It, Devourer of Books, Teacher Girl’s Book Blog, Bibliofreak Blog, Literary Feline, Confessions of a Bibliovore, YA Reads, Nomad Reader, Fyrefly’s Book Blog, One Literature Nut, Sophisticated Dorkiness, And Another Book Read, Vulpes Libris, Classic Vasilly, Book Confessions, Maw Books Blog, Jenny’s Books.
Wow, there are a lot of posts about this one! Did I miss yours? Let me know and I will add your review to the list. 

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Giveaway Winners: Roald Dahl Stamps

I positively hated going to random number generator and finding I had to disappoint so many of you, but alas, that cannot be helped. Here are the five winners of the giveaway of Roald Dahl Stamps:

Kath, AnastasiaZee, Karin, Kayleigh.

Two of the above had never commented before (hello there, Kath & Kayleigh! I do hope to “talk” to you again sometime :))

I will email the winner about their address details shortly.

Thank you all for participating, and I hope the other commenters will win something too, sometime.

Sunday Salon: A Handful of Updates

It seems lately I am more of a reader than a blogger. I am currently at 13 books read this year. Part of this amazing (to me) number may be that I like hiding in books when I try to not worry too much. This also makes my reading list a little haphazard and different. Lots of YA, combined with some classics & POC authors. One day I’ll be in the mood for a book that gives me a completely different world to *hide*  in, another a book that I can sink my teeth into & analyse to death if I so wish, because how I miss analysing texts since I finished my thesis (and I am perfectly serious, no sarcasm there).

Anyway, my books left to review now total 13. Yay. I am sure I cannot remember *what* I was going to say about some of them. Which is frustrating, considering that I haven’t written about them because I felt I had so much to say, I had better save it for when I had thought things over again:

  1. Tender Morsels
  2. The Brontes Went to Woolworths
  3. Being Emily
  4. Pilgrims Don’t Wear Pink
  5. Rebecca
  6. Anne of Green Gables
  7. O Pioneers!
  8. White Teeth
  9. God Dies By the Nile
  10. New Girl
  11. Monsters of Men
  12. The Brothers
  13. The Hunger Games

This does mean I have read one book from the Roommate Challenge list (which is already starting to look impossible, why do I have so many long books from pre-2009 left?) and one for the African Reading Challenge.

I was doing so well, posting almost every day in January, but that kind of stopped working for me last week. Oh well, February is always another month to try to make it work.

In other news, I seem to have misplaced my copy of I Capture the Castle and I know we will be discussing it this Saturday, eek! It being a read-along organised by me, I feel extra guilty. I will try to figure something out. I will still post a wrap-up, and am still open to a twitter movie watch-along Sunday night?

Monsters of Men

I am reading it…

“And what other kind of man would you want leading you into battle?” he says, reading my Noise. “What other kind of man is suitable for war?”

A monster, I think, remembering what Ben told me once. War makes monsters of men.

“Wrong,” says the Mayor. “It’s war that makes us men in the first place. Until there’s war, we are only children.”

Are you excited, Ana, Sandy, JillJenny, Alita? I will soon be able to DISCUSS & SHARE, and there will be no need for secrets anymore (I have a feeling there still are).

Hundred pages in, I am already such a mess of nerves & empathy.

Ragnarok: The End of the Gods by A.S. Byatt

Ragnarok - A.S. ByattRagnarok: The End of the Gods – A.S. Byatt
Grove Press, February 2012
Review copy through Netgalley
Buy: Amazon | Bookdepository * 

Ragnarok is A.S. Byatt’s retelling of the Scandinavian myth of the end of the world, the moment that the Gods kill each other and destroy all that they know. In retelling this myth, Byatt has taken a girl, “the thin child”, who reads the myth during her childhood in war-time Britain. The reader veers in and out of the story of the myth, through the eyes of the child, following how the child makes sense of her own world, with her father away on war-duty, and the world of the myths told in Asgard and the Gods.

In order to enjoy Byatt’s retelling, you need not be familiar with the story of Ragnarok. In fact, I have never read a version of the myth myself, and have only caught glimpses of the idea of the end of the world as represented in it.  Byatt’s prose is beautiful and lures you right in. And even though I had to adjust to using the child’s perspective and appropriation of the myth for her retelling, in the end this is exactly what made Byatt’s book so interesting to me.

At the end of the book, Byatt explains why she chose to represent the myth as she did, reflecting on the autobiographical inspiration for the thin child, the idea of the relation of Ragnarok as inevitable to the contemporary loss and carelessness about the Earth’s nature, but also on the process of reimagining the specific genre of myth for modern readers. Byatt defines the differences between fairy tales and myths as concerning the kind of story telling they represent: fairy tales are narratives, straightforward, satisfactory to the reader, featuring characters with full personalities. Instead, myths, to Byatt, are often unsatisfactory, need not be narratives at all, and often feature characters that have no all-round personalities, just attributes.

“Myths are often unsatisfactory, even tormenting. They puzzle and haunt the mind that encounters them. They shape different parts of the world inside our heads, and they shape them not as pleasures, but as encounters with the inapprehensible. The numinous, to use a word that was very fashionable when I was a student. The fairy stories were in my head like little bright necklaces of intricate carved stones and wood and enamels. The myths were cavernous spaces, lit in extreme colours, gloomy, or dazzling, with a kind of cloudy thickness and a kind of overbright transparency about them.”

I enjoyed Byatt’s reflections at the end of the book, because it was exactly this different world view represented in the mythical parts of the book that captured my interest. Not because of the content of the myth, per se. I hate to admit it, but I even found it hard to not let my thoughts wander during the first few chapters detailing a part of the myth pertaining to trees. Instead, it was because Byatt paints such a vivid picture of the differences in world view between Scandinavian mythologies and Christianity, and yet has the child approach both as stories, which she could enjoy but did not believe in. Rather, the child seems to find meaning in the fact that both Asgard and the Gods and The Pilgrims Progress were stories that impressed her and lived on inside of her. Byatt does not criticize belief per se, but she shows how people search for and appropriate stories when they construct their own world view, through the eyes of “the thin child”.

In a way then, Byatt’s Ragnarok can be read as a somewhat post-modern and humanist perspective on meaning making through religious myth. This is reflected in her “A Note on Names”, published at the beginning of the story, in which she explains why she used different names used in different regions for the same character:

“Myths change in the mind depending on the telling – there is no overall correct version.”

But it is a theme that recurs throughout the book. In her story, Byatt has the child prefer Asgard and the Gods over Christianity, at one point, because the child feels she can make more sense of the crumpling world of war in that way. Byatt certainly seems to prefer myth over Christianity, seemingly identifying the latter with a more static and strict worldview. And this is exactly what intrigued me. On the one hand, Byatt had me thinking to myself: “here I have been studying religion for years, and I feel I am finally making sense of the utter difference between a circular world-view, a mythical one, and the more linear Christianity”. On another level, while Byatt states she represents myth in a less modern way than her predecessors in the Canongate Myth series, by retaining Gods as characters with attributes instead of personality, she makes something as old as myths modern in a different way, by emphasising the constructionist and changing nature of myths. Then again, on yet another level, she really does only underline something inherent to the nature of the old custom of what we now call myth-telling, it having always been a tradition of re-telling, without every word being strictly set in stone.

I enjoyed Ragnarok very much, perhaps less so for the parts in which the myth itself was retold, and more because it made me stop and think, every few pages. I am still processing what I have read, and I cannot wait to return to this short book someday. In the mean time, I am anxious to finally read some of Byatt’s other fiction.

Other Opinions: Desperate Reader, She Reads Novels, Things Mean A Lot, Rebecca Reads, Geranium Cat’s Bookshelf, Lindy Reads and Reviews, A Librarian’s Life in Books, Eve’s Alexandria.
Did I miss yours? Let me know and I will add your review to the list. 

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