Customer Review

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars For 600 pages it's surprisingly quick. A fantastic (and cinematic) premise, but hard on the memory!, 22 Dec 2013
This review is from: Battle Royale (GOLLANCZ S.F.) (Paperback)
3.5 stars, to be fair.

This was on a '50 most challenging books' list. Thought I'd give it a go - loved the film a few years ago.

After reading it, I think the reason it made the above list was not the violence, the premise or the morality. It's the names. A class of 40 students is selected to take part in a 'to the death' battle in the dystopian Republic of Greater East Asia. Only one can survive - the 'winner'. The rest must die. Friends must fight friends, girls must fight boys. The students are 15. The problem as a reader is really the fact that it's very hard to tell everyone apart. In some ways it hardly matters, most are going to die soon after being introduced. With 600 pages and more than 30 deaths, that's an average of a death every 20 pages. So we don't really get the chance to know many of the students well. But when we do, it's pretty hard to distinguish best friends Yukiko and Yumiko, and the group that includes Yukie, Yuko and Yuka. You can see what I mean.

Anyone preparing to read this book, I assume, is aware that there is going to be a LOT of violent death. One of the interesting aspects for me was how students reacted to the news that they were going to have to abandon loyalties to save their own skin. Would they refuse to go it alone and stay together? Would they take to the game with relish? Both extremes of human instinct come into play, with a wide range of characters and stories. In some ways it's a shame the book isn't longer, to really see the stories of the students. But in another, it wouldn't be necessary as they die so quickly anyway.

For me, the fact that it was a class of 15-year-olds made it a little samey in parts (is that possible with this storyline?!). Over half the students have crushes or boyfriends/girlfriends in the group, and spend a fair proportion of the 600 pages admiring or pining for their loved ones. There ARE some affecting scenes and deaths with this in mind, but really, there are too many in my opinion. But I'm not a teenager reader anymore, it might review better with them than it does with me.

I wanted to know more about the students who were really taking the game seriously and relishing the legal change to kill fellow human beings, one in particular is a figure of menace but never explored in any depth, just showing up regularly to off another classmate unexpectedly like a threatening shadow.

The wider picture is what is missing really - in a society where the government condones and encourages classes of students to murder each other, we are given precious little of outside the island setting to see the larger society's view on this - the students' parents are mentioned, children watching the 'news updates' of the game results. I'd have liked more of this. But at 600 pages, it's already quite an epic.

A small issue crops up in the translation of the Japanese original - some teenage language comes across as very false and wooden, there are grammatical errors that had me re-reading a few sentences to make sense of them, which were small things but a little annoying.

I'm going to have to watch the film again to remind myself of the differences, but this is a stunning idea, a fantastic talking point, and definitely one teenagers will want to read. There is a little sexual violence among the more usual kind, very little swearing (surprisingly enough), but it is definitely not an easy read.
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