Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Catching Fire, by Suzanne Collins

OK, it's only the most hyped YA book of the year and it's been out for two months already and I haven't read it (nor did I score an ARC like the real reviewers), but I would be very remiss if I didn't get around to reading the sequel to The Hunger Games and posting my thoughts.

At the end of Book I, Katniss and Peeta have both won the Games through some nice manipulation of the rules, but things will hardly get quiet. Their little trick has unwittingly made them symbols of a rebellion -- a notion which doesn't even occur to Katniss until she is visited personally by the President. To stave off the movement and save their families from the leader's wrath, they must convince the world of their loyalty to the Capitol and to each other. But even that won't be enough when the next year's Games are announced -- a special round called the Quell -- and the results of the reaping are known.

It's not really worth talking about liking or disliking this book (there have been 100s of reviews -- most of them favorable) and the general consensus seems to be: if you liked The Hunger Games and want to read more of the same, this is a good read. If you're expecting much that is new, then you're probably in for a bit of a let down. But either way, this is quick, got-you-at-the-jugular reading. It is suspenseful, powerful, and good reading.

So, instead, let me talk about the tone of this book and its predecessor. These are gory books, to say the least, with more than a fair share of suffering and bloodshed (one might even argue that they are inappropriately violent for younger readers, but that isn't a topic that interests me). Rather, it is the message of this set up. What inspires the creation of a world that is this bloody? Does Collins believe that there are places like this? Or that we need to envision such worlds? What purpose does it serve? Most dystopian novels create their worlds as instruction to the reader (warnings, if you will, of what to avoid). It's hard to tell what this world's purpose serves except as a horror. And I find that a bit unnerving.

Yes, we have the eventual triumph of good over evil to look forward to, but at such a terrible cost that it's hard to really enjoy it. And what would feeling good about such a triumph say about us the readers? I'm really not sure what to say about all this yet, but it's the feeling I'm coming away from right now.

(Oh yeah, I may like the book, but I absoluteley hate the fact that Book II doesn't stand on its own -- having neither a beginning nor an end, but rather being an installment to get us to Book III -- like Back to the Future II)


Unknown said...

The Only thing I hate about catching fire is the cliff hanger.... UGH


Paul said...

Now, I don't mind a good cliff hanger, but what I don't like is an unfinished story. If you're going to write a book, it needs to have a beginning and an end. The problem with Catching Fire is that if you don't read Hunger Games first, you'd be completely lost and since Catching Fire doesn't really have an ending (but just a To Be Continued), you have to read Book III as well. In a good series, each book should stand on its own.