Original title: Batoru Rowaiaru
Original Publication: 1999
Pages: 622 (paperback)
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Koushun Takami's notorious high-octane thriller is based on an irresistible premise: a class of junior high school students is taken to a deserted island where, as part of a ruthless authoritarian program, they are provided arms and forced to kill one another until only one survivor is left standing. 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, a potent allegory of what it means to be young and (barely) alive in a dog-eat-dog world.
I first heard of Battle Royale when reading reviews of The Hunger Games, when it was suggested that Ms. Collins’ inspiration must have come from this book. It took me a while, but after seeing a few more recommendations, I purchased a copy and sat it on my shelf. Where it sat for several months until last Saturday I decided I felt like reading a paperback book and it was the first one I picked up.
To be honest, at first I was a little wary – sure the storyline sounds amazing, but how could I possibly keep 42 (!) characters (with Japanese names which also confuse me) straight in my head? I have trouble with half a dozen sometimes….so it was with a little trepidation that I opened the book to the first page…….
I was immediately hooked – keeping the characters straight was made easier by a list of names in the front of the book, and when characters that had been previously mentioned reappeared, the link back through the writing was strong enough that I was fully aware of who was who, their story, their actions and their fates.
This is not a book for the faint hearted – Takami holds nothing back in his imagination, and some scenes are jaw-dropping in their intensity and detail, but the story itself stops Battle Royale from spiraling into a mindless bloodbath. There are twists and turns I never saw coming and the ending is breathtaking (and unexpected!).
Three days and more than 600 pages later I finished reading (I put off the final 20-odd pages off because I didn’t want it to end!), put down the book, turned to my boyfriend and said just one word “Wow!”.
I wish I could tell you more about this book, but it is a difficult book to review without giving away key parts of the story. If you can get a copy, you should definitely invest in this book – I’ll definitely be going back to this one again!