“We star-crossed lovers of District 12, who suffered so much and enjoyed so little the rewards of our victory, do not seek our fans’ favor, grace them with our smiles, or catch their kisses. We are unforgiving.”
OK, I really hate putting spoilers on book reviews because the basic point of a book review is to recommend a book to someone who hasn’t read it, after all…but then the point of this blog (or one of them, anyway) is to rave about books to the only thing that will listen, the Internet. And some books you just have to talk about. And Catching Fire is one of them.
I realise all that was a little incoherent. Let me start again (if, of course, you are still reading). You may remember that I reviewed The Hunger Games a couple of months ago, and while I enjoyed it, it was not the life-changing event certain of my friends had made it out to be.
But Catching Fire, the sequel, despite its slightly annoying title (I mean, “catching fire”? Really? There wasn’t a more poetic phrase you could have used?) is an entirely different kettle of fish.
Katniss and Peeta have won the Hunger Games. But that victory comes with a price: the Capitol sees Katniss as a threat after her little trick with the berries, a symbol of the rebellion that even now is awaking in the Districts. There are some hard choices ahead, as well as the near-certainty of revenge from the Capitol.
Part of the reason why I enjoyed Catching Fire so much is, I suspect, because the plot of “rebellion” is my favourite one in the world. It’s why I love The Lord of the Rings and Muse’s album The Resistance and Stephen King’s epic septet The Dark Tower. Because they all feature the little person standing up against tyranny and oppression. And Catching Fire does this especially well in a political context: the evils of the Capitol are being attacked, not necessarily by violence or even words, but by symbols. There’s a great line in the book:
“It must be very fragile, if a handful of berries can bring it down.”
And there it is. A symbol can do what seventy-five years of the Games cannot. I also loved the moment where Katniss’ dress turns into a mockingjay on live television: it made me grin aloud (as it were) with the epicness of the gesture, a thing that has not happened since Stephen King’s The Waste Lands last year.
Actually, the whole novel was very emotionally intense. At the end of literally every chapter I would be going “Oh no! That’s horrible! Why? Why?” And at the end: “YOU CAN’T STOP THERE! WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO DO WITH THAT?”
Not out loud, obviously. Because that would be odd.
It’s impossible (for me, anyway) not to play “what-would-I-do?” games with this kind of story. But in Katniss’ world there aren’t really any right choices. Join the hopeless rebellion and endanger her district (not to mention herself) or stay quiet and watch children sent off to the Games every year? Refuse to play the Games and die or kill others to save yourself? And, of course, the most important question of all: Gale or Peeta? (Gale. No, Peeta. No, Gale. No, Peeta. I DON’T KNOW!!) I love that there are no right answers in this story, only differently bad ones.
One thing, though: it really annoyed me how dense Katniss was being about Plutarch Heavensbee’s watch. It had a mockingjay on it! How could she not realise what that meant? How? It was so obvious there was something going on, and the worst thing is, she kept thinking about that moment, and I kept thinking, now she’s going to realise, now she’s going to realise…oh, no, she’s not. Damn it.
Anyway. I loved Catching Fire, and it made me even more committed to democracy than I already am. Am I going to watch the film? Well, I’m not sure. I watched the trailer, and I just kept thinking, “That’s not how it is! That’s not what Peeta looks like! That’s not what happens!” I think I want to keep Panem and Katniss and the Games and District Twelve for myself, in my own head, for now. (Plus, I haven’t seen The Hunger Games, so, you know, that might be a problem.)