Bread and Battle

Suzanne Collins lacks a flair for brutality.

The subject of Collins’ “The Hunger Games” may be a vicious fight to the death, but her description of each combatant’s eventual demise lacks dramatic tension. A neck snaps. Killer wasps attack. Someone dies of poisonous berries.

With every death I felt almost nothing. Perhaps it’s a side effect of my Mortal Kombat upbringing. Nothing less than two paragraphs of blood gushing and entrails slathered on the ground can convince me of brutality.

Quite unfortunately, I find that she also lacks the flair for demonstrating internal conflict. Even after finishing the book, I’m not entirely convinced that Katniss ever considered having feelings for Peeta. The words are there; the sentences conspire to persuade me that yes, this is a tortuous love affair in the making, but I can’t feel it.

In fact, for the most part I felt detached from the characters in the novel, like they were people I should care about but couldn’t. And yet on two distinct parts of the novel, I found myself completely teary-eyed and on the verge of a full-blown crying session.

Because Suzanne Collins is at her best when painting a vision of silent defiance.

When the people of District 12 refuse to clap and offer a local gesture of love to honor Katniss’ sacrifice, when Katniss sings lullabies to the dying Rue and adorns her lovingly with wild flowers, when the people of District 11 send her a loaf of bread in gratitude — that’s when the characters in “The Hunger Games” become flesh and blood.

Then everything else becomes forgivable.

The occasionally clunky writing, the hard-sell of emotions, the insufficient depiction of brutality in what is supposed to be an Old Boy kind of world — it’s all forgiven.

Because suddenly I’m nodding and saying “yes, I understand you perfectly”. Suddenly everything makes sense. Suddenly everything means something. To me.

It’s not perfect.

I’m probably reading far too much of my personal angst into it.

I can’t wait to read the sequel.

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