Sunday 21 April 2013

Book Review - Battle Royale

Title: Battle Royale
Author: Koushun Takami
Publisher: Gollancz
Release Date: 10 May 2007
ISBN-13: 978-0575080492

a class of 42 junior high school students are taken to a deserted island where, as part of a ruthless authoritarian program, they are electronically collared, provided with weapons of varying potency, and sent out onto the island.

If they are in the wrong part of the island at the wrong time, their collars will explode. If they band together to save themselves a collar will explode at random. If they try to escape from the island, they will be blown up. Their only chance for survival lies in killing their classmates.

Criticized as violent exploitation when first published in Japan - where it then proceeded to become a runaway bestseller - Battle Royale is a Lord of the Flies for the 21st century, and a potent story of politics and survival in a dog-eat-dog world. 

My Review
When the Hunger Games first game out and I talked to my friend about it she told me it sounded an awful lot like a Japanese story she had read. She told me the basic outline and I agreed their were similarities but it didn't bother me. It seems she wasn't the only one to think it  the internet exploded with people saying Hunger Games had 'ripped this story off' etc. Having never read this I couldn't judge.I love the Hunger Games and always will but I decided I wanted to see what all the fuss was about.
I requested this book from the library quite a while ago and even once it had arrived I didn't pick it up. My friend warned me that it was quite gory, and as a wimp it put me off. It remained in my tray at work, but when I had 15 minutes to pass yesterday I picked it up. 
Now to get the whole Hunger Games thing out of the way - apart from the fact a group of children are put together and told to kill each other - that is where the similarities end. The books are very different and stand very well on their own two feet. For one in the HG everyone knows what is going on and the people going into the arena are trained and have warning, in this the kids are just thrust in with no warning at all, and it's more friend against friend as they are all from the same class. This is brutal!
This book is very gory, although I had been warned I was still shocked and put off in places by the level of gore. Takami has no problem describing all sorts of horrendous wounds, guts and blood included in detail. I actual found myself trying to look away in some places and skimming other really violent bits. The deaths themselves seem to be in more detail than necessary, nothing is left to the imagination, yet all the images formed in my mind and made me cringe. I certainly couldn't watch the film of this, the images conjured in my head were bad enough without seeing them played out in a film.

Basically the Government randomly selects a class of students and sends them on a 'field trip' but it's a cover, all of the students (classes average at 40 pupils) are knocked out and taken to an island. Once there they are all given a backpack which contains some basic survival equipment and a weapon. These weapons range from a fork to knives and various guns. They are then told that they must kill each other and only one student will be left alive. To ensure they comply they are all fitted with a metal collar which tracks their movements and can be detonated to kill any of them. As the 'Program' takes place more areas on the island become out of bounds drawing students out of hiding and force them to face off.

There are main characters - Shuya, Naroki and Shago are pretty much the 'protagonists' but I liked that they didn't tell all of the story. Many chapters are told from other students points of view. Some of them get multiple chapters and a more developed story whereas others appear just to be killed.But it gave everything a more rounded perspective and I liked getting to see other points of views. 

I did get slightly confused with the names - as there were so many characters, a lot of which you only see briefly I got a bit lost with who was who, and a lot of them had similar names like Yoku and Yoka. But I kind of just glazed over their names at times and tried to keep up more with what was happening.

It took me a while to get into the story, it starts on the bus on the way to their 'field' trip and Shuya is describing who is on the bus. This is set out almost like a 'register' of students, he describes who is sitting where, names and class number, but with so many being described and introduced I couldn't keep up with who was who at that point, and of course being at the beginning of the book none of them were really relevant so I wasn't particularly interested at that point. But once they get to the actual island it started to pick up pace.   
I can't really say that I enjoyed the book, it's too gory and disturbing for that, but I appreciate the writing and think it was well done. It was a 'good book' but for me just a bit too dark and disturbing. I wanted to know more about why the government ran this program, what was behind it, and how come with so many pupils disappearing over the years - why did they not suspect anything. Trust me, if I knew kids disappeared on Field Trips to go into the program I would avoid all field trips at all cost. This just seemed really random and I would have liked more to explain the purpose of it. 

I quite liked the ending there were certain characters I wish had escaped throughout and one late death that I was really saddened by, but overall I liked the end.
At 617 pages this book is quite hefty and I was worried it would take me a long time, but it didn't at all. I had to do it over 2 days as i couldn't read it too late at night, but apart from that I pretty much whizzed through and I wanted to know how it would turn out. 

I can understand why it was hyped up, it is well written, gripping and very involved. It will certainly get your heart pumping
My Rating

I don't think I can actually rate this book, I did find it compelling and gripping but I'm not sure I exactly 'enjoyed' it, it was too gory and brutal for that. I certainly didn't 'love' it, but then it's too well written to be classed as 'Average'. So in this sense I am in a bind. So on this occassion I will just leave it with a simple summary.

"Compelling read that will have you turning pages and gripping your seat, packed with action and writing that will certainly have your blood pumping, but also very violent and gory. Not for the faint-hearted!   

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