Monday, 30 January 2012

THE HUNGER GAMES

I'm going to forgive anyone who's never heard of these books (unless you're an American teenage girl) but it's important that you go and buy at least the first two right now. Super important. And I'm afraid I'll probably be mentioning them quite a lot in the near future, since I'm really quite excited about the film (coming to a cinema probably nowhere near you on the 23rd March).

Oh, and I know I've taken a photograph of all three books, but I'm going to avoid giving any spoilers about the first, and will probably only give a passing mention to the other two, because I don't want to ruin them for anybody. Yes, I'm sure there are people reading this and thinking "Telling us that there are three kind of spoils it, doesn't it? Since now we know that at least one of the main characters survives the first book in order to carry on the story." If you are one of these people, you're right. I'm sorry, but I was bought the trilogy, so I knew there were three instalments, and now you do, too.

So, the Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.

Following an unspecified apocalypse, the continent of North America is now home to the nation of Panem, where once a year, twenty-four teenagers (a boy and a girl from each of the twelve districts) are taken to the Capitol to participate in the titular Hunger Games, a televised event in which they fight to the death until only one tribute remains. The event is supposedly to remind the citizens of what happened to District 13, who tried to rebel against the Capitol and were unsuccessful. Our protagonist, Katniss Everdeen, lives in District 12, where she has spent years flouting the law by leaving the district and sneaking into the forest to hunt in order to provide for her family, of which she has been the head since her father died in a mining accident. She is 16 when her younger sister is chosen as the tribute from District 12, and volunteers to take her place in the Games.

I really enjoyed this book. In fact, I sat and read it in a single sitting. Katniss (who for some reason is never called 'Kat') is actually quite a good role model compared to some of those who have appeared in recent teen fiction (Bella Swan being the obvious example), as she is really quite self-sufficient and very determined to survive, but at the same time is averse to killing people within the Games. And while the other characters lament her inability to present herself well to the public (there are interviews and all sorts of other things to deal with before the killing begins), I think it's something that the target reader can relate to really well. Placed on a stage in front of thousands, possibly millions of viewers, I wouldn't be able to speak, let alone be charming and witty and whatever else Katniss is expected to be.

And while the premise of the book is utterly violent, the story and the action are gripping without being too graphic. I'm not especially squeamish (unless something happens with eyes, then I'm a total wreck) but I don't see the point in graphic violence just for the sake of it. Of course, it's hard to say how the tone of the book would have been different, whether improved or ruined, by heavily detailed violence, but I think Collins has fallen on the right side of the fine line.

There was, however, something that bugged me while reading the first book that I couldn't identify until I reached the end of the second instalment. Everyone else I knew who had read the book claimed to love it, but I only really liked it, and I couldn't figure out why that was. At the end of the second book, Catching Fire, (again, I promise no spoilers), Katniss says Peeta's name, and I suddenly thought, "no, David," at which point I realised I had, for the last chapter or so, been picturing Tally Youngblood from the Uglies series by Scott Westerfeld instead of Katniss. This was made even more distressing by the fact that I am, and always will be, Team Zane rather than Team David. There are definite similarities between the two series, but I think that has to be expected. They deal with many of the same issues, and so there is bound to be some overlap between the two. Unfortunately, because the Uglies series is very close to my heart (I've bought maybe ten copies of the first book to give to other people as birthday presents over the years) I prefer it to the Hunger Games series, though I think reading it first is possibly the only thing that gives it an edge.

That being said, however, I really didn't like the third Hunger Games book, Mockingjay. I have very specific reasons for not liking it, but unfortunately explaining any of them would require spoilers to the first two books and I wouldn't want to hamper anyone's enjoyment of them, because I would definitely recommend them. I will say, however, that in spite of this, a character who I had never liked does die at the end of Mockingjay, and I was devastated. I haven't cried that much since Deathly Hallows.

So do yourself a favour and go read these books. Even the rubbish third one, because you really have to read the whole set. You never know, you might even like the third one, though I've yet to meet anyone who does. And if you're not into reading, (which is unacceptable, by the way), the film's coming out soon, and I have to admit, it looks like a pretty good adaptation.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Writer's Block

I have Writer's Block. I've capitalised it so you know just how bad this is.

This isn't something I've ever really experienced before, I'm quite a prolific writer (I won't say anything as to quality or lack thereof in my work, I'm just saying I'm good at getting words onto paper). In the past six years, I've written seventeen novels, totalling somewhere in the region of 1.5million words. Which I think is a lot.

Right now, however, I haven't written anything in over a month. I completed last year's NaNoWriMo, managing the full 50,000 words with a day to spare, and haven't written anything since. Well, that's not strictly true, I had uni assignments to write, but they don't count. My point is, work on the novel has ground to a halt, and I'm not sure why. I thought perhaps assignments and then Christmas and then moving back to uni were just getting in the way, I just didn't have the time to write, but last week I sat down and tried. Really tried. I set myself the challenge of writing 5000 words of basically anything in a couple of hours. I even used WriteOrDie but gave up after just a few hundred words.

So I'm asking for your help. Yes, that's right, you. Have you ever suffered from the dreaded Writer's Block? How did you fight it and get back to writing? Or did you just give up on writing and find a new hobby/dream/vocation?

THE ARTIST

I doubt it's escaped anyone's notice, but awards season is upon us, and one of the films expected to do particularly well (by which I mean sweep the floor, essentially) is The Artist, a black and white silent film, which I went to see last night.

The film follows silent movie star George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) who finds himself becoming obselete with the arrival of the talkies. People don't want to hear him speak, they want fresh meat, fresh faces for this fresh technology. One such fresh face is Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo), who finds herself shooting to the top, thanks, ironically enough, to George.

I've only ever seen one silent film before (and it was shown in a classroom with twenty-odd thirteen-year-olds who had utterly no intention of watching it) and actually found it a very strange experience at first. To see people talking on-screen but not hear it was very bizarre, but as I became engaged in the story, I stopped noticing it. The fact that it was a silent film didn't make it any harder to follow, although being able to lip-read made it amusing in a few places. Also, don't be alarmed by the silence as the production company logos/emblems are shown, that's supposed to happen. I was expecting music, and was a little concerned that somebody had forgotten to switch the sound on.

I won't pretend to know anything much about films or the history of cinema, but I found the film charming, there's no other word for it. I was, at first, a little confused as to where the film was set, it claims to be in Hollywoodland, but looked at times more like New York or London. I also found it a little strange that both the main characters were clearly French. Perhaps that was normal with silent movies, but I'd expected it to be a case of French actors playing American characters.

Overall, I would recommend the film, although several reviews I've read suggest that it probably won't impress fans of silent movies, as I found it to be charming, funny, and actually quite moving. It's also very easy to follow, so don't be put off by thinking you won't understand what on earth is going on.

Saturday, 14 January 2012

The Joy of Books

I'm not sure how to describe this. I think you should all just watch it and be amazed.