Veronica Roth’s Divergent is the synthesis of the modern inclination towards teen dystopian novels, not only this, but continues the rise of the female protagonist going unchecked since Joanne Rowling shortened her name to JK. I mention JK Rowling because she single handily redefined books as big business; if an author stumbles upon the formula to have a book converted to a movie then they have reached the pinnacle of their field. So followed Twilight, The Hunger Games and now Divergent. Each book has refined the book-to-movie formula down to its most basic component parts. First person is a necessity, the protagonist female (presumably due to the fan girl phenomenon) and the love interest must be Colin Firth like in his resoluteness and lack of personality. Divergent fulfils these requirements unflinchingly.
Like most Dystopian works of fiction Divergent picks up the story after “generic war/ things went bad we have to do something drastic”. The drastic measure in this case was to divide humanity into five factions “Abnegation, Amity, Candor, Dauntless and Erudite” representing different virtues opposite to which sin the faction believed to have been at fault for the wars. For instance Abnegation believed selfishness to be responsible for the war so their faction is based around the concept of selflessness. These factions are divided in dystopian Chicago, which intrigued me somewhat (the more sensitive readers will understand why) however little is referenced of the deep topography of the landscape. Instead, bizarrely, descriptions of surroundings are sacrificed for descriptions of the faces of those characters whom Beatrice (our hero) comes in to contact with. These extended epithets serve as a chance for the reader to breathe before re-submerging in to the speedily paced plot. Those familiar with the Twilight series will be reminded of that incessant description “Edward’s perfect face” however Roth is at least more varied than Meier in her range of language. Generally though, I question the necessity of these descriptions. For instance, Beatrice is described as having “a narrow face, wide, round eyes, and a long, thin nose.” Other than helping out a future casting director I fail to see the point of such a description. In any case I highly doubt the inevitably doe eyed girl cast in the role of Beatrice will have “a long, thin nose.” Factual descriptions such as this only serve to hinder the reader in imagining the world Roth creates and is tonally jarring alongside the lack of description elsewhere.
Sixteen year olds in dystopian Chicago are divided, sorted if you will, into factions following aptitude tests. Teenagers who are prone to reading these books are probably within the midsts of an identity crisis. Beatrice’s choice between Abnegation and Dauntless is the literalization of this. What compounds this is that Beatrice has no exceptional personality traits, she personifies the empty shell in to which the fangirl can pour her own emotions. However, unlike Katniss Everdeen or Bella Swann as the novel progresses so does Beatrice’s personality as she realises what it is to be controlling and selfish. This mirrors the process of puberty and acts as catharsis for the teenage reader.
Divergent read as if you are playing an rpg video game, constantly stationed behind Beatrice watching as she levels up with each task. We hear very little of Beatrice’s thoughts and when we do the repetitiveness of them are similar to when your video game character says something to you. What’s more Beatrice is never too far away from action, the quieter moments are too often interrupted by a happening. This gives the feeling of the book being a plug and play which I suppose is to counteract the reader constantly having the option to check Twitter before turning to the next page.
I found the romance element of the story to be somewhat superfluous. It irked me that as Beatrice grew braver/ stronger/ wiser throughout the story her dim wittedness towards men didn’t recede. Her love interest “Four” had the usual qualities of mysteriousness and aloofness laid down by Edward Cullen and Mr Darcy before him. Throughout the books the adjective “pretty” is repeated several times mostly in relation to Beatrice not being so. Rarely has a feature that a character lacks been explored so fully. The build-up of Beatrice not being pretty reaches its peak when her and four discuss it.
““I’m not trying to be self-deprecating,” I say, “I just don’t get it. I’m younger. I’m not
He laughs, a deep laugh that sounds like it came from deep inside him, and touches
his lips to my temple.
“Don’t pretend,” I say breathily. “You know I’m not. I’m not ugly, but I am certainly not
“Fine. You’re not pretty. So?” He kisses my cheek. “I like how you look. You’re deadly
smart. You’re brave. And even though you found out about Marcus…” His voice
softens. “You aren’t giving me that look. Like I’m a kicked puppy or something.”
“Well,” I say. “You’re not.””
This passage defines the modern female protagonist. Gone are the days of the delicate flower fussing over her clothing to be replaced with the fiery, strong willed, customarily bow and arrow wielding lead. This change has come about because young women buy books and watch movies. Companies are finally starting to catch on that the motivated fangirl can far out buy the idiotic teenage boy. It’s important that the main character isn’t conventionally attractive so that they are relatable to the girl reading the book. This provides a problem for the cinema industry; they can no longer cast the obvious beauty such as Anna Farris in the lead role and instead switch to the more normal looking woman like Jennifer Lawrence (whose fan base has reached unchartered levels of idolatry).
So, without getting distracted too much, I go back to my original point that Divergent is the amalgamation of modern teen fiction embodying the tropes of this time. Just like a video game Divergent has interesting moments but its lack of variability in pace makes it more of a trawl than a fun read.