My Mild First Person Confusion

It’s a worldwide phenomenon – a million dollar movie franchise and the “next” Twilight series. The series of novels are true young-adult fiction, with dark themes, violence, big questions and grander answers, and a few months ago (after seeing the actually-quite-good motion picture) I started to read the Hunger Games series of books. My thoughts on the novels are pretty much par for the course – good concept, well planned series, but with some poor writing and odd logical choices. There will be no spoilers here, but for a fluffy book for teens it’s remarklbly difficult to read and asks a lot of it’s readers, like all good speculative fiction should.

Not minutes from picking up the first book I already knew I was going to have a problem with it, however. It wasn’t the writing style, nor was it the subject matter. It wasn’t even the short, stopping sentences, bit thoughts thrown together in a narrative style I grew accustomed to, and later I realised was actually a part of the narrator’s personality. No, it was the person in which the book was presented.

The whole series is presented from the first person perspective.

I have a natural aversion to the first person, because of how clumsy it can seem. The repeated use of “I” feels like it’s forced. The constant mention of how the character is feeling is something that I find difficult to follow when it’s presented to me, especially in the fashion that the Hunger Games uses it. In many other novels, some of which are my favourites of all time, including the Great Gatsby, they are presented in the past tense; a retelling of a tale, as if this was a tale personally told to me. This, to me, feels like it works a lot better than the stumbling structure that the books gives us. It feels hard to tell us what is going on in such a sprawling world when the only view point we can see from is that of our narrator, and our narrator is hopeless.

Katniss is a character that is thrown through the ringer; she struggles with the task at hand in all of the books I have read (I am still to complete the series) and in turn this affects the book’s feel – her feelings, sometimes at contrary to the world, stymie the flow of the novel. We rarely get to feel the rest of the world because of her exposure to it is limited and any time she starts to think or describe the outside world beyond her view it feels forced because, in the heat of the novel, there’s no reason for her to be thinking about it. It’s a world building technique that feels rather disjointed.

But the biggest flaw in this narration technique for these novels in particular is not that it’s first person. That’s not the killer feature – it’s the fact that it’s her telling us the story. Not in the past, not as it had happened, but as it happens, which means I know she won’t die. If she died, at least in the first two books, the plot would end – it’d be a short series. By making her the present tense non reflective narrator we are guaranteed her survival. It would’ve been interesting; the first novel as Katniss, the second as Peeta, and the third as Gale. That would’ve given us a lot more insight into the world and the building of the characters.

It’s an aversion that I have overcame, and the above criticism might be bollocks, but it’s what I think about the novels. I am rather enjoying them despite the sequel-feeling I got from the second book. I am interested in how the world resolves it’s self and how the book will end, but not in Katniss. Maybe that’s the point... but it might be accidental.