Review: Hunger by Michael Grant

hunger michael grant Review: Gone by Michael Grant

Perdido Beach, three months after the FAYZ. There are no adults. There is no food. There is no order. Tormented by the hunger that gnaws at their bodies and increasingly fearful of the creeping monstrosities lurking in both the dark of night and in the light of day, those who remain find themselves growing paranoid, resentful, desperate. Battle lines are being drawn, not only between Sam Temples clan and the eerie lot of the Coates Academy, but within each group. More and more of the survivors are beginning to demonstrate supernatural powers, 'resulting in growing disenfranchisement among their normal peers, who fear being treated as second-class citizens as a result of their weaker physical status, and the fact that their leader himself is one of the freaks, as theyre known. There is apathy from some, dissension from others, and sheer unadulterated cruelty from others again, and its not long before the already fragile society of Perdido Beach is once more under tremendous threat, both within, and without. Not only must the two discrete groups deal with the tumultuous situation of their internal ranks, but they must deal with a much darker, much hungrier, and much more unrelenting force known as the darkness.

My thoughts

While I enjoyed Gone (see my review), the predecessor of Hunger, I did express some reservations about the incessant upping of the stakes, which occurred in such a dramatic manner that each chapter felt as though it were competing with the last for a medal in the area of Superlative Awesomeness. I also struggled somewhat with the rather minimalist and binaristic approach to characterisation, and the handwavium employed to overcome some of the more confounding plot and milieu elements. Still, I had rather high hopes for this, the next in the sequel, and Im rather pleased to note that not only were they met, but they were rather significantly surpassed. At its heart, Hunger remains a whiz-bang action adventure story'chock-full of monsters and mutants, super powers, battles to the death, and explications of the very human desire to survive against vanishingly slim oddsand presents all of these with admirable attention to plot, pacing, and mood. However, while Gone merely hints at deeper themes, Hunger leaps on them with feverish abandon, forcing a closer and more thoughtful reading, and one that is far more rewarding. Its not a flawless work by any meansthe major characters Sam and Astrid, as well as key antagonist Caine (who, as his name suggests is indeed not the type of fraternal figure in whose presence one delights) largely spend their days faffing about, moaning about the burden placed upon them, and being generally needy and narratively non-essential; the whole uranium-eating monster in the depths thing is a little eye-rollingly melodramatic; and the books beginning is more than a little lurching, trying to pander to both new readers and those familiar with Gone, an issue that does crop up a few times throughout the novelbut its strong enough thematically that its shortcomings can be quite readily overlooked.

In Gone Grant tentatively addressed issues of bigotry, but typically in the sense of racism, a bigotry that stems from visible physical differences. In Hunger, however, this issue is explored further in terms of not only racial bigotry and homophobia, but also in terms of the irrational fear and hatred targeted towards the mutants, whose varied supernatural powers immediately render them atypical. While this bigotry parallels in some ways racism and homophobia, it is substantially different in others. First, the powers exhibited by each of the mutants are different from each other, meaning that detractors cant trot out the old lover the sinner, hate the sin: in each case, the identified power has to be weighed against normalised ways of being and acting, and discounted accordingly. Second, whether one is or is not a mutant is not readily identifiable using external measures such as skin colour or so forth, leading to the need to either assume all are innocent until proven guilty, or all are guilty until proven innocent (in a largely lawless society bent on immediate survival, one can rather easily guess which mindset prevails). Given the newness of the mutated form, there are no standard ways of being or performing mutant, as one might perform ones gender or sexuality, and the flux-like state of this subset of people creates a fascinating set of oppositions to the standard binaries. Perhaps most interesting of the characters in this sense is Dekka, an African-American lesbian who also happens to be a mutant.

Of course, what makes all of this so chilling is not only the way in which mutants are immediately declared to be deviations, without consideration of the fact of why this should be so, or the arbitrariness of the line differentiating mutant from normal (and the fact that mutants may well be normal, and the normals the mutants: see my review of John Wyndhams excellent The Chrysalids for some parallel commentary), but of course the way in which the mutants are so readily, so violently discounted. Unlike other minority groups, whose status in no way affects their ability to participate in society, those demonstrating mutant powers offer an important means of survival: the ability to hunt, to gather, to protect, and so forth. Most of the mutants, indeed, demonstrate powers that are benign within society, but offer essential benefits in terms of the immediate survival requirements of the fractured Perdido Beach society. For this reason, the irrational, primal response of the normals towards the mutants is additionally chilling: not only do the normals pass judgement upon the mutants in a way that is cruel, unusual, and arbitrary, but in doing so they limit their own capacity to survive in what is an increasingly challenging situation. This appalling short-sightedness (and not to mention the notional, changing value placed on human life) is prevalent throughout Hunger, and becomes all the more awful with each turn of the page.

In addition to the omnipresent theme of bigotry, Grant also looks at economic and political participation, and cultural regression. Sam and Astrids welfare state approach is problematised by Albert, who argues that incentives, such as the application of meaningful value to ones work and actions, are needed in order to encourage participation in the workforce. Alberts carrot approach to economics is contrasted with Caines rather more ends-justifies-the-means stick approach, which employs Pavlovian methods to not so much encourage participation as to discourage lack of participation. The notion of universal suffrage, equal representation, and representative government is also addressed, with the increasingly fractious societies in the book rather reminiscent of certain political goings on in the US (and no doubt elsewhere); again, we are given a counterpoint with the Coates Academy, which employs dictatorial, totalitarian approaches. Finally, Grant gives nods to Brave New World (see my review) and Fahrenheit 451 (see my review) with his depiction of the mass consumption of popular culture as a coping mechanism. Rather than growing older, the young characters of Hunger seem to regress as time passes, becoming increasingly infantalised and unable to deal with the demands of daily life. Sam, for example, spends his days mediating ridiculous points of contention about ownership of pets, name-calling, and so forth, all of which could be easily dealt with by someone assuredly comfortable in their own sense of agency. However, the Perdido Street crew has given over their agency in place of a life of passivity, seeking to avoid engagement and thus the consequences and responsibilities of the real world. While books arent being burned, they have certainly been subordinated to the Wii or to the Playstation.


Gone, the first in this series, seemed a little to me like a warm-up novel, and I suspected that this, the subsequent volume would address the lingering concerns and dissatisfaction I felt upon finishing its predecessor. Im glad to find that I was right in my suspicions, as Hunger surpasses Gone by rather a long shot. There are some plot points that do become repetitive, and some of the major characters do feel as though theyve gone into narrative hibernation, but the novel gallops along at a tremendous pace, and doesnt shy away from complex, challenging themes. If youre after an excellent YA that segues neatly into some of the more traditional dystopian oeuvre, then you could certainly do a lot worse than to pick up Grants work.

Rating: ????? (excellent)

With thanks to Hardie Grant Egmont for the review copy (which is the stunning tour edition above)

Purchase'Hunger from Amazon | Book Depository UK | Book Depository USA

See also our review of Gone.

See also our review of Lies.

Other books by Michael Grant:

gone michael grant Review: Hunger by Michael Grantlies michael grant Review: Hunger by Michael Grant

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