when i was a young thing there was the catcher in the rye, which was squarely ‘teen’, and the bell jar which might just have been *me* (if you know what i mean). there was no such thing as Young Adult fiction. as i left my teens behind, paul zindel came onto the horizon, and i read him avidly. but then i grew up, and had no reason to follow the story arc of how YA fiction plumped itself out into becoming a whole genre. i did read one harry potter book to see what all the fuss was about, and watched the first film. that was easily enough for me. then his dark materials came out, and i considered that a proper read, but i was still not really aware of the YA phenomena.
so, fast forward, then, to the hunger games trilogy. i enjoyed the spare writing style, which i imagine might be common to the genre, and the story itself was so strong it really didn’t need gilding. and i know i am not the only person who thinks that the first book should have been the end of the story. it leaves the future to the imagination, and a sense of ambiguity which would have been a good – this is what adulthood is like. of course, i greedily wanted to consume the other two books, and i did enjoy them, but i still think that in terms of literary merit and story arc she should have left us hanging and left books two and three on the cutting room floor.
and that, gentle reader, is ALL i have to say about the formal characteristics of the books. what became apparent during the read was that there was going to be a lot more to say about the politics in the book than the story itself.
while i was reading the first book i found myself thinking about kazuo ishiguro’s never let me go and the remains of the day. both of which have been made into excellent feature films.
the trailer for never let me go
the trailer for the remains of the day
and it’s not as if the politics of reproduction were off the agenda either here in the UK or in the USA, of late. abortion is a stand alone issue, for the time being, in the uk, whereas the recent arguments in the usa have even broader implications to do with cancer screening and access to contraception. by the way, i thought this article was particularly good.
however, it was not this set of issues that got attention in the mainstream media. no. it was something that isn’t even directly addressed in the book. it was the issue of race – specifically, the casting of rue in the feature film.
this kind of sideblinded me, since i hadn’t seen the film, and the book simply describes the skin/hair/eyes rather than ascribing them to a ‘race’ as such. it would seem pretty obvious, that if the population of panem is what is left of the USA, then unless race itself were the cause of the uprising, then whoever is left would be broadly the same racial mix as in today’s society. mind you, much as i have loved watching the walking dead, the one black character in that series gets roughly zero storylines, so i couldn’t stay surprised. the transparency of race in the book rather highlights how far society has to go, in it’s realization into a visual media.
i was warned by a fellow reader that i might find books two and three a bit extra to requirements, and it doesn’t help that it takes a while for the storyline to take off in the second book. i was listening to them as audio books, and at some point i found myself scrolling through tumblr while i listened. this led me to my next thematic interest. after i had exhausted my usual feed of art and animal pictures i went to ‘explore tumblr’ and started scrolling through an infinity of #fashion tagged posts.
the parade of waifs in insane outfits started to work on me. and from time to time there would be posts about anorexia and model’s deaths due to suicide and heart attack. i started to view the images i was looking at through the lens of the book.
the commodification of women’s bodies in late capitalism tipped over into a real hunger games story, for me. skinny girls wearing immobilizing clothes and accessories that their peers could never afford. and epitomizing a visual ideal which most people cannot achieve. i read this article in teen vogue which opens with;
“When I heard about the $34,000 alligator backpack that Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen created for their label The Row, my first thought was, Are they insane? A few days later I clicked on a fashion news website only to read that the pricey bag had flown off the shelves. After that, I couldn’t get that elusive backpack out of my mind. Who was the lucky girl who could afford such an indulgence?”
so, anyway, this is hardly news. but the books are threaded with themes that could take the reader’s thoughts anywhere. and it is rare enough for popular fiction to be so openly political and critical.
just after i had finished reading i read this piece by my friend charlie bertch. it’s a better review than mine, and, heroically, manages to stick to the theme of the politics of hunger.
/end serious book review. back soon with more rubbish about dogs and everyday life.