The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Posted: March 4, 2014 in Book reviews

By Suzanne Collins.

I’d seen the film before I read The Hunger Games, so on the whole, a few plot points aside, I knew exactly what was going to happen. Despite this I enjoyed the book and was looking forward to the second instalment.
When it comes to Catching Fire, though there was the possibility of seeing the film first, this didn’t come to pass, so for the most part—aside from a general understanding of where the story would eventually go—I didn’t have a clue how the novel was going to pan out.

Maybe this was why I enjoyed it even more than the first book?

Beginning in the months after the 74th Hunger Games, when Katniss and Peeta defied the odds and both survived, we see them back in District 12, only now living in the Victor’s Village, the only other resident being Haymitch, their former mentor. In many ways Katniss’ life has changed dramatically, neither she nor her family struggle for money or food now, but in other ways she tries to reclaim her pre-Games life, once more sneaking through the barriers that encase her District to hunt, along with Gale, the boy she (probably) loves.

It soon becomes apparent however, that things can never go back to how they were. When President Snow visits unexpectedly, he makes it clear to Katniss that her acts of defiance in the Games have caused ripples of unrest within the Districts, and that if she doesn’t help to calm these ripples, then Katniss, Peeta and their families, will all suffer.

So Katniss and Peeta must once again put on the show of being star-crossed lovers (which is easier for Peeta since he clearly is in love with Katniss) even going so far as to announce their wedding, and Katniss is soon faced with the possibility that she will have to endure a loveless marriage, lest those she holds dear be killed.

Even as the wedding preparations begin, President Snow makes it clear that Katniss and Peeta haven’t done enough. Katniss fears what he’s going to do, but even she is unprepared for what happens, because the next Hunger Games is the 75th, and every 25 games there is a ‘Quarter Quell’ meaning the rules are twisted slightly to drive home the Capitol’s dominance. The last Quarter Quell saw twice the number of tributes reaped, and was the Games that Haymitch won, for the 75th Games all tributes will be reaped from the surviving victors of the last 74 games, and since one male and one female have to be reaped from each District, and since Katniss is the only ever female victor from District 12, she’s going back into the arena…

Like I said, I really enjoyed this book, although my praise does come with some qualifications, some relating to the start, others relating to the ending.

Initially I found it a little uninvolving. Seeing Katniss back home, back hunting, and back with Gale wasn’t exactly thrilling, and it was hard to really feel that sorry for Katniss. This is all necessary scene setting however, and once President Snow arrives the mood of the novel shifts. If it’s hard to feel much sympathy for Katniss in the opening chapters, it soon becomes hard to feel anything else for this young girl, forced to kill, forced to live a life she doesn’t want, and now forced to try and defuse a rebellion she hadn’t intended to start, and soon enough the brutality of the Capitol is made clear in a way that I think was lacking somewhat in the first book, and it will be interesting to see how far the second film goes in showing the violence meted out by the Peacekeepers, because at times it’s quite intense. Given that certain things like the Avoxs and the Muttation versions of the dead tributes were excised from the first film, I’m not hopeful.

This time around it’s possible to get more of a feel for the other tributes, and whilst it’s still hard to keep track, it’s much easier than it was in the first book. The characterisation is, on the whole, good, and Peeta and Haymitch really come alive, as do some of the other tributes. Other characters fare less well. President Snow is intimidating and ruthless, but has little character beyond that, though I guess from Katniss’ perspective him being monolithic and evil is all she can tell. The real failure though is Gale, who, two books in, still hasn’t made much of an impression on me, so I’m still left wondering exactly what Katniss sees in him. Maybe he’ll come good in book three?

Yet again one of the big positives is Collins’ pacey, stripped down prose, and once I got into it I really did find it hard to put this book down. As with the Hunger Games though, the first person perspective is both the novels greatest strength, and an occasional weakness, especially when it comes to the ending.

Because we see everything only from Katniss’ perspective, it’s easier to understand her hopelessness, fear and horror at what she witnesses. I’ll probably never truly know what it feels like to be a teenage girl living in a dystopian future, but this probably gets me as close as possible to it.

Because we only know what she knows and see what she sees however, this means that a lot of stuff increasingly happens ‘off camera’. At times this is a boon, meaning we are surprised at the same moment Katniss is, but at other moments, the end for example, it means we’re suddenly dumped with a whole heap of exposition about what’s really been going on, and whilst some of it makes sense, and frankly some of it I saw coming, other bits seem a trifle contrived.

This does worry me for the third book, assuming it follows the same format. Showing the world from the perspective of one girl works great, for the most part, in the first two books with a narrow focus on the games, and Katniss’ fight to survive, I’m just unsure how well it will work in trying to show a nationwide rebellion. Hopefully I’ll be wrong, but everything I’ve heard suggests the third book is most peoples’ least favourite.

We shall see, and soon, because I can’t want to read the next instalment of what has, so far, been a surprisingly enjoyable story!

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