Book Remarks: Suzanne Collins, “Catching Fire” (2009)
June 14, 2012 3 Comments
I found The Hunger Games — the first book, that is — imperfect yet intriguing. That is also how I describe myself on my better days. The characters Suzanne Collins created were compelling enough for me to want to keep going with the trilogy, as opposed, in contrast, to the relative lack of curiosity I experienced after finishing the first Twilight book. I just finished the second Hunger Games book, Catching Fire, and it was entertaining, albeit not as much of a page-turner as the first one. Here are some reactions, written for those who have already read the book themselves.
Catching Fire starts slow, right? Really slow. There’s no threat in until President Snow shows up, and even then, he’s not someone who strikes fear in his simple appearance. No Voldemort, he. This may be a case where the movie will improve matters, as Donald Sutherland will surely lend the character an extra dollop of malevolence. To an extent, Snow doesn’t need to be palpably insidious as the larger lesson of the Hunger Games could be that many problems are caused by a complicit citizenry, rather than just a single bad dude. Snow might wind up as the epitome of evil, but for the time being he comes across as a muddling blunderer, particularly when it comes to pushing Katniss Everdeen too far.
KATNISS (wondering about Snow): Was it enough? Was giving everything over to you, keeping up the game, promising to marry Peeta enough? In answer, he gives an almost imperceptible shake of his head (57).
Stupid man. By showing no mercy, he’s condemning himself, and making us wonder how he’s held onto power over the years. Although I do like the directness and supposed sincerity of Snow’s words to Katniss, as he declares how the good of the people is why he supports, well, himself.
PRESIDENT SNOW: Do you have any idea what that would mean? How many people would die? What conditions those left would have to face? Whatever problems anyone may have with the Capitol, believe me when I say that if it released its grip on the districts for even a short time, the entire system would collapse (17).
Still, without an impending reaping the start lacks a feeling of urgency, even with Snow’s appearance and threats toward Katniss’ loved ones. I was really hoping for the fight to be fought in a new arena in this new book. Katniss could take to the wood, fleeing and then fighting from the hills! Katniss could get caught in the capitol, embedded in the power structure and fighting from within! Instead, we get the bold decision…to repeat much of the last book and return Katniss to the games. Mind you, Collins is particularly skilled at writing the adrenaline and action which occurs in those life-and-death struggles, but if we’re not to get anything new and exciting, could we at least get to the action a little quicker?
Catching Fire does expand its awareness of ethical concerns, as Katniss takes time to consider how the killing she did in The Hunger Games was not without consequence.
KATNISS: I will have to travel from district to district, to stand before the cheering crowds who secretly loathe me, to look down into the faces of the families whose children I have killed… (3).
There is some ambivalence to applaud.
KATNISS: The berries. I realize the answer to who I am lies in that handful of poisonous fruit. If I held them out to save Peeta because I knew I would be shunned if I came back without him, then I am despicable. If I held them out because I loved him, I am still self-centered, although forgivable. But if I held them out to defy the Capitol, I am someone of worth. The trouble is, I don’t know exactly what was going on inside me at that moment (89).
That’s the difficulty in determining motivation. Most of us are a combination of causes. It’s also a really smart realization by Katniss that she can’t protect Prim from the regime, as they’ve already hurt her.
Furthermore, I like that Katniss isn’t perfect, and considers killing in cold blood, as opposed to never confronting the hard choices. Peeta and Gale are a little less believable in their perfection and unwavering love and commitment. Katniss, with her ambivalence and her tantrums, is so much more real than the extraordinary nobility of the boys in the book.
The buildup of the oppression in the districts is also a bit obvious. I would have found it more interesting if the government had couched its clampdown in the guise of kindness and giving. Some sort of twist to give it surprise, or to force the characters or the readers to reflect. There are obvious echoes of between the society in the Hunger Games and how it uses media to turn people into objects, but in the Hunger Games the enemy is often too easy to tell.
To me, Collins is stronger when she has Katniss reveal to those who run the Games that they are under the oppressive thumb of the government as well. Katniss reminding them of Seneca’s death is a brilliant stroke, and one of my favorite moments of the book. I like when the protagonists fight back using the media, as I feel that in totalizing systems the only way to resist may be to screw with the media apparatus. And I found the abbreviated action in the Games fun to read even if it wasn’t the focus I wanted.
It is to the books credit that I take seriously enough to give this critique. And yes, I’m planning on reading the next one. I expect that the rebellion I wanted this time around will be around in Mockingjay. I’m also fairly confident that Peeta will be around as well because, underneath all the kickass hunting and shooting and rebellion, it’s all about the love triangle. Mind you, there’s still a chance that Katniss winds up with neither boy. I’m not expecting it, but that would be a true surprise, a real hiccup in the script that our own media masters ask us to follow.
Polentical: Suzanne Collins, “The Hunger Games” (2008)