Thursday, July 26, 2012

Catching Fire, by Suzanne Collins (2009)

I couldn't bring myself finish it. I gave up 150 pages into Catching Fire because another 250 pages would have been too much, not too mention the 400 page finale. It was too tedious. It's not often I give up on novels. I gave up on the Twilight series halfway through the third book. I gave up on Stephen King's Dark Tower series halfway through the sixth book. Life's too short. If I'm not enjoying the book after 150 pages, I doubt I'll enjoy it after 250 more. I just wish there was more depth to the writing and to the thought processes behind the creation of this dystopian world. I found myself skimming through paragraphs because what Collins decides to focus on is tiring. Fashion, food, makeup, a love triangle. The movie will need to make some serious revisions if it has any hopes of not spiraling into silliness.

Catching Fire is the second book in The Hunger Games trilogy, as I'm sure you all know, and if you haven't read the first book and don't like spoilers, I would skip this summary paragraph. Katniss and Peeta have returned to District 12 after jointly winning the latest Hunger Games competition. Katniss just wants to go home, go through with the required victory tour, and then live out her life pretending nothing happened. Oh, and she hopes everything blows over with Peeta and that she can spend her life with Gale instead. However, President Snow sees her actions at the end of the games as an act of rebellion. Even if Katniss didn't intend them to be so, those in other districts thought they were, and they see her as a symbol of revolution. Snow threatens Katniss with Gale's life if she doesn't convince everybody that she is really in love with Peeta, because apparently that should quell any revolutionary fervor. It seems to me if President Snow had just left Katniss alone she would have no idea she was the cause of a series of rebellions, and she may have just lived out her life in blissful ignorance. President Snow expected her to be braver than that, silly man.

This whole series, really, hinges on Katniss as a character. The problem is, she isn't an engaging character at all. She has no personality (this is even established by Haymitch in the first book), she isn't very bright, she's a wimp, and her main concerns at the start of the novel are trivial in the face of what begins to unravel around her. I've heard the argument that Katniss is a strong female character, but I disagree. She is not a hero. She is not strong. When President Snow visits her and demands certain things of her, she all but buries her nose between his butt cheeks to make him happy. And it's not like she's telling him what he wants to hear while having other ideas in mind. When she tells him she will do as he says, she means it. And she says it while quaking in her boots. What kind of hero does that make her?

*Warning: Minor Spoiler Alert*

She's also very slow to catch on to things.  There's a scene where we meet Plutarch, the new gamemaker, who shows her a watch that shines a symbol of her Mockingjay pin. The gesture is obvious to us intelligent readers. To Katniss, not so much. She wonders if Plutarch is worried that somebody will steal his new watch design. Huh? That doesn't even make sense, Katniss.

*Okay, spoiler over*

There's also the problem of the love triangle. In the first book, this love triangle was apparent, but it wasn't the focus of the novel. Gale was back in District 12 while Katniss decided her best survival strategy was to feign a romance with Peeta. Well, more like she was coaxed into this strategy, and more like she's not sure what her feelings for Peeta really are. I mean, really, can't our heroine have any conviction at all? Anyway, now that she's returned from the games, her mind is lost in confusion over whether she should love Peeta or love Gale, and each of these guys is angry/jealous over the other, though I think Peeta's more cool and understanding about it than Gale. But honestly, I could care less. Neither of these two are well-developed at all, especially Gale. His presence is barely felt in the first book. Katniss may know Gale better, but the reader knows Peeta better, and that's more important. Still, when you're living in a dystopian world with an oppressive government, there are more important matters than deciding who to fall in love with, right?

And I don't understand Katniss' hesitation about becoming a revolutionary herself. She just wants things to be as they were before, without considering the problem that things as they were before means 23 teenagers will die horrible deaths each year. She's terrified by the news of rebellions starting up and wants to stop them. Even worse, she schemes to run away with those she loves. If there is a more cowardly move I can't think of it. How's this girl a hero again? (To be fair, I don't know what happens in the final half of the book, so maybe she does become more heroic).

I really wish Collins spent less time on the scenes devoted to dressing Katniss up and feeding her extravagant meals. Removing those would have had a wondrous effect. I'm not saying the book would have been great, but I might not have given up on it. Katniss herself even begins turning into those people of the Capital she's supposed to despise. She actually likes getting dressed up and talking about how she looks, though she wouldn't go so far as to dye her skin purple. I found myself skimming over these scenes because they contribute nothing to the story, and they destroy the satiric context of having the privileged elite play dress up while poor children kill one another on TV.

And that is all just from the first 150 pages. Katniss begins finding herself face to face with actual revolutionaries, but nothing very interesting happens. Based on what I've read in other reviews, and what I've heard, the story develops in the right directions only very slowly. I had no desire to wait for it to happen. I need a writing style with some substance. I need something more than simple sentimentality and visceral violence. Nothing resonates very strongly through Collins' writing, and that, more than anything, was the reason I put this book down.


  1. I didn't mind this one...Let me be more specific-- I didn't mind the idea the quarter quell (minus the dress up)...but I agree 100% that Katniss is not that great of a hero and she's a terrible revolutionary in the final book. I mean downright half-ass.

    Good review. I understand your grievance.

  2. Chris, that was a great (and honest) review! I couldn't agree more.