Battle Royale by Koushun Takami – 1999
If you’ve seen (or read) The Hunger Games you will have a fair idea of what this very good Japanese novel is about, because author Suzanne Collins did a stellar job of ‘borrowing’ some of the themes and plot points for her decidedly more child-friendly dystopian work. It’s a shame, because Battle Royale came out almost a full decade earlier and often falls into the shadow of Ms. Collins’ piece, and as a result, doesn’t really get the credit it deserves.
The story is simple. As part of a student programme authorised by the Japanese government, a class of high school students are taken to a deserted island, provided with weapons, and forced to kill each other until only one of them is left. It’s not Dickens, but it is effective.
The translation is not perfect, and sometimes it reads a little awkwardly, and you can tell a phrase hasn’t made the jump from Japanese to English with the greatest of ease, but the bones of the story are universal. At over 600 pages it’s quite a long novel, but once the action starts it rarely lets up.
It would also be prudent at this juncture to issue a caveat. Battle Royale may very well have been the inspiration for The Hunger Games (although Collins denies it) but don’t let the connection fool you. Takami’s novel is extremely violent and disturbing, so if you’re going to read it… you have been warned.