First of all, I received Divergent as part of an Amazon Prime deal which was pretty sweet, and I’d been mildly intrigued to give the series a go. I’d enjoyed The Hunger Games, which is a series of similar ilk prior to this. I’d had a few latent doubts about the Christian subtext that I had heard about but, putting those concerns aside, I found that Divergent largely excelled.
It is hard to discuss Divergent without also considering The Hunger Games. Both books are structured around a seemingly-‘normal’ young girl who finds herself at the forefront of a societal upheaval and a figurehead of the resistance against an oppressive and tyrannical government. Both books, too, fall squarely into a subgenre of post-apocalyptic or dystopian young adult fiction. I’ve received criticism for reading young adult fiction which I’d like to address: I don’t see anything wrong in my reading of this material, even if I’m 26 and “young adult” is a bit tenuous in reference to me personally. I’ll read whatever I damn well please and, if I enjoy it, I’ll enjoy it without concerning about judgment on its literary merit. I don’t subscribe to the belief that I should indulge in only ‘highbrow’ and learned literature; rather, I read books I actually enjoy. There’s nothing more to it than that, though this is a topic I will probably revisit later.
With post-apocalyptic fiction I usually enjoy a well-realised world and then observe how the characters react to it, and how that world reacts to them. With Divergent, the protagonist Triss is expected to choose a “faction” of society that she believes she most belongs to. There is no trial period, and choosing a different faction to that one was brought up in is a one-way street. The society in Divergent is geared around grouping people with similar virtues together to combat the notion of a wholesome human psyche being the catalyst for war. I identified with Triss’s angst and apprehension with being forced into a life-defining and irrevocable choice at the age of sixteen: in the UK, I was in a similar position about my future academically and it felt a lot like the world was ending, much as it does to Triss.
To aid the choice, every candidate undergoes an Aptitude Test (essentially Divergent’s equivalent of the Sorting Hat, for want of a better metaphor) which aids their ‘recommended’ faction based on the responses given to a hallucinatory simulation. Triss, naturally, doesn’t neatly fall into one category or the other and her ‘divergent’ status in society is quickly established as akin to being a dangerous thought-crime. I did struggle somewhat with the over-simplification of how society is divided in Divergent. I think dissecting society according to broad and singular virtues is somewhat simplistic, but the explanation of how general societal roles according to those virtues did click, and as the book progressed, the tensions between the factions and the challenging of the established status quo was interesting.
The science-fiction in Divergent did seem very lightweight, and for the benefit of the plot. I was somewhat sceptical of the injections that allowed the interface with technology to submerse the subject in a controllable, ultra-real simulation but these scenes did move the plot along where needed and gave an insight literally into the minds of the characters. In the latter stages of the Dauntless faction initiation that Triss undergoes, the confrontation of a simulated manifestation of one’s deepest fears was an intriguing look at – and also a quite overt confrontation and acknowledgement of – the candidate’s psyche and historical narrative. It was reminiscent of the segment of The Hunger Games wherein the psychotic episode of the Mockingjays in the Arena that preyed on the contestant’s deepest emotional identities to bring about madness. Divergent is considerably less brutal than The Hunger Games but deals with similar parallel themes – how can a society structured around such singular virtues function when those that don’t neatly fit into those expectations pose such a danger to that very framework?
Divergent was clearly a setup for the rest of the trilogy, which I have yet to read. The characters are nicely established, with Triss taking some pretty heartbreaking decisions near the hectic climax of the book that I am sure will shape how her character in the future instalments. I am concerned, however, that the series may take a turn akin to that The Hunger Games does, and that the heroine progressively becomes more angsty and resentful of the responsibility that falls onto her. In The Hunger Games, toward the end, I found this trait was dominating Katniss’ personality to the point where I found her quite unlikeable and ungrateful. In Divergent, Triss starts off trying to prove herself and vindicating her decision to choose against her birth faction while keeping her Divergent status secret. I quite liked the long-held prejudices between the factions – the knowledgeable Erudite being deeply distrustful of the selfless Abnegation – which flare up toward the end. My thoughts are the system in the Divergent universe sets out with admirable aims but simply fails to take into account humanity’s innate ability and predilection to corrupt this system for individualistic or tribal gains (the parallels with a similar real world system that failed for just that reason are plain to see if you look…)
Ultimately, Divergent’s setting left me asking questions that I feel I need to read the rest of the series to answer. How did society in post-apocalyptic Chicago degenerate to the point where the faction system was deemed a necessary solution? And how will the apparent collapse of this system at the end of Divergent be handled? I’m sceptical of how Triss’s character can handle the responsibilities that her elite and dangerous Divergent status will encumber her with but, I will venture forward with the series across the year to see whether I was correct. Prose-wise, it was not a challenging read, and I did feel I was drawn in quickly to the pacey writing, making Divergent an easy read and one that rocketed along, though not without pausing at times to collect itself.
Buy Divergent on Kindle UK