Monday, July 28, 2008

JD's Take: Battle Royale (Koushun Takami)

Odds are pretty good that if you are one of the (2) people reading this, you already know what this book is about, but I'll give you the back-of-the-book summary regardless. In an alternate world much like our own (but worse!), Japan has decided that one way of reinforcing the power of the dictator is by randomly selecting a middle school class from each prefecture and making them fight to death each year. We open as a class of forty 15 year-old kids is taken to a remote island and set loose with a backpack each of supplies and told to kill each other off.

Good times.

What follows is a gripping story filled with twists and gut-wrenching moments. I found myself eager to read more, to find out who lived and who died. I was constantly surprised by the brutality of the author and the humanity of the characters. That isn't to say that the book is without flaws, far from it. I'm not sure whether it is a facet of the original text or the translation, but the writing is often stilted, repetitive, and immature. The characters repeat themselves endlessly, reusing the same phrases repeatedly, and often dwelling on the obvious far past the limit of my patience. Some of the characters are extremely unrealistic. The antagonists (whether they be the government, the guy running the show, or the classmates with a villainous streak) are usually flat and generically sinister (though there is a notable exception to this in the form of the Bad Girl character).

Overall, I found the whole work oddly compelling, and pushed past my annoyances with the writing style with minimal effort to see what happened next. The best part about the book is that it explores the themes of evil, violence, authoritarian government, betrayal, loyalty and human nature without dwelling overmuch on it, and makes a nice pulpy read out of it in the process. Now I just need to pick up the movie!


Anonymous said...

^ Why unrealistic? What will you do if you were on their position?

JD said...

I think I was specifically referring to the character who is startlingly well-equipped to hack into a government network. Particularly startling since he is a middle school student with nothing but what happened to be in his backpack.

For the most part, the actual human characterizations were excellent... I think the full range of likely responses to the situation were covered... plus some pretty unlikely ones (like happening to have a high functioning sociopath amongst your classmates). :)

JD said...

Also, this review is offensively badly written. I really need to proofread sometimes.