Friday, 10 January 2014

The Divergent Trilogy by Veronica Roth

Another week, another teen dystopian trilogy.  One, I would say, much more obviously and unabashedly teen. The Hunger Games is less self-conscious in its audience.

I read this because I saw a trailer for the film at the cinema, and thought it looked good.  My friend, who pretty much likes all of the same books I do, said that she had read it already, and enjoyed it.  It's so reassuring to get a good recommendation from someone with similar taste. I sometimes find choosing a book to be a bit of a gamble, and I hate not to finish a book I've started.  This can sometimes lead to the Middlemarch effect - I end up fighting my way through a book which I don't enjoy very much at all, with the sort of grim determination I really ought to reserve for running, where the pain is actually worth something in the end, rather than just the feeling of "well, that book was crap, and I'll never get those hours back again." I remember my Mum struggling through War and Peace for a really long time.  She was about two-thirds in when she finally admitted defeat, saying "they all had really similar Russian names, and I didn't have a clue which character was which." That's an awful lot of book to read without knowing who was doing what, or why!

Anyway, I digress, as the Divergent Trilogy is gripping from the off.  The two central characters are well-drawn, and the reader does care about them. The female lead is strong, and one senses that the woman playing her will need more than just the one facial expression that Whatsername wears in Twilight. The idea for the Dystopian society is interesting and well thought out. Teenagers must, at 16, pick from one of five Factions. This community is the most important setting for the people in the society (Faction before Family). They pick according to their nature: Abnegation are selfless, Dauntless - brave, Candor - honest, Erudite - knowledgeable and Amity - peace-loving. Those who fail the initiation into their chosen Faction become Factionless - a fate which some commit suicide to avoid. I can imagine that as a teen my friends and I would have spent some time analysing which Faction we would have joined (I think I would have plumped for Amity, where they eat lots of fruit, and drug the bread to make everyone happy).

There is tension within the tightly-knit community from the start of this book.  The reader quickly realises (with the help of a quick visit to Wikipedia if you're not familiar with US geography) that the book is set in a future Chicago.  One gets the impression that the characters' world is not the whole world, and Roth creates a feeling of them being watched extremely cleverly, and drops subtle hints that reminded me of M Knight Shyamalan's film The Village.

The first book was by far the best, for me, and promised a great deal. The second two books were almost a little rushed.  I felt like there should perhaps have been less characters and a slightly more streamlined plot - there were bits that seemed a little extraneous.

I won't give too much of the plot away, as that's the beauty of the book.  However, if I had read it as a teen, I would have been EXTREMELY upset by the ending of the final book.  Those with sensitive teens might want to tread carefully, or at least get ready for being cried on, copiously.

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