Friday 17 September 2010

Book Review: Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

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"Against all odds, Katniss Everdeen has survived the Hunger Games twice. But now that she’s made it out of the bloody arena alive, she’s still not safe. The Capitol is angry. The Capitol wants revenge. Who do they think should pay for the unrest? Katniss. And what’s worse, President Snow has made it clear that no one else is safe either. Not Katniss’ family, not her friends, not the people of District 12."


For all intents and purposes, the Hunger Games are done. After thwarting the Capitol's grim Battle Royale with a declaration of love in the face of utter devastation and a threat of double suicide by poisonous berry her first time out, sparking rumbles of revolution all across Panem, the government contrived in the form of the Quarter Quell a second opportunity to be rid of troublesome District 12 resident Katniss Everdeen. But against all the odds, she pulled through again. At the close of Catching Fire, it was revealed that a number of so-called "tributes" had been working together to save Katniss and her sometime lover, Peeta, that they might act as symbols of the uprising. Would that the leaders of the revolution had thought to ask for her assent first...

When Mockingjay begins, she's having none of it. Safe for the moment in the bunkers of a secret thirteenth district, from where the rebellion is being orchestrated, Katniss has time to reflect. She's been used by the Capitol, by President Snow, by her tutor, Haymitch, and worst of all, by Peeta, who wasn't so lucky in the climax of the Quarter Quell: the oppressors have him at their mercy, and they're prepared to do whatever it takes to break the unwitting Mockingjay's spirit - and thus the backbone of revolution - once and for all. Katniss doesn't know who to trust, where to turn, what to do. And all the while, the burden of expectation weighs her down. "What they want", she intuits, "is for me to truly take on the role they designed for me... It isn't enough, what I've done in the past, defying the Capitol in the Games, providing a rallying point. I must now become the actual leader, the face, the voice, the embodiment of the revolution. The person who the districts - most of which are now openly at war with the Capitol - can count on to blaze the path to victory." But at what cost? And why has it fallen on her to lead the very people who would have happily cheered at her death in the arena only a year ago?

Eventually, inevitably, Katniss puts her qualms to one side for the greater good, but conjoined with the comprehensive catch-up the final volume of any trilogy must offer up, her doubts make the first third of Mockingjay something of a slog. Perhaps Katniss' endless indecisiveness fits with her character, but it's hard to express how frustrating it is to see her, yet again, second-guessing the very resolutions she's made (after no small amount of humm-ing and ha-ing) in the previous books, only for her to redouble her resolve a couple of chapters later, arriving back, in the end, at square one, and no further.

There's a lot going on in Mockingjay. Suzanne Collins has iterated in Panem a fascinating post-collapse society rife with conflicts infinitely richer and more relevant than those Katniss is faced with, the vast majority of which, at least initially, get short shrift next to her tiresome internal monologue. What of the districts at war with their brutal oppressors? What of the people of the Capitol itself, whose obsession with Katniss, the erstwhile girl on fire, surely clashes with their primitive understanding of the impoverished who make their lives of luxury possible? What of Peeta, Haymitch, Gale and Prim? Instead, we're stuck with Katniss - as we have been throughout the trilogy - whose isolationist perspective only detracts from the greater issues in play.

Thankfully, things pick up once Katniss has finally made up her mind to be the Mockingjay. Our experience of the uprising begins in earnest, and the fallout is truly horrific; Collins pulls no punches in the race to the jagged finish line. The body count rises exponentially... the conflicts Katniss must come to terms with grow to dwarf her directionless angst of only a handful of chapters ago... and far be it for me to spoil the fraught conclusion for those of you who haven't already gobbled it up, but everything falls apart in short order, and Collins, true to her relentlessly dystopian vision to the bittersweet end, does not see fit to put all the pieces back together in the pandering way so many young adult authors surely would.

Mockingjay is certainly a more coherent and ultimately satisfying addition to The Hunger Games than Catching Fire was. Given how far from the formula Mockingjay strays, book two of the trilogy feels, in retrospect, like little more than a rerun of Katniss' first trial, an inferior director's cut which Collins should have had the sense to let well enough alone. But neither is Mockingjay the breath of fresh air The Hunger Games was: only in the approach to the finale does Katniss actually develop as a character in any real sense, and considering that Collins has told this entire tale from her inherently limited perspective, it seems a real shame to have had her, and by extension us, tread water for so long. With such an incredible setting to exploit, such a fertile cast of supporting characters to give it depth and texture, lumbering the conclusion of the trilogy - which once promised so much - with yet another round of Katniss' exhausting self-doubt only hurts Mockingjay in the end.

It has its faults, then, just as Catching Fire and indeed - to a lesser extent - the first book in the series, but on the whole, Mockingjay makes for a fitting curtain call to The Hunger Games, which itself stands, whatever the individual failings of its three volumes, as a daring and supremely addictive instance of modern young adult literature at its pinnacle. Harry Potter and Twilight be damned: to whomsoever is keeping tabs on such matters, The Hunger Games, and pray, not they, should go down in the history books as a game-changer.


by Suzanne Collins
August 2010, Scholastic

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  1. Rather than listing them here, I'll link to my review of Mockingjay (here) if you're interested. In short, I did enjoy the ending, for the most part, but it definitely did not live up to Book One.

  2. O M G !
    These books stripped me bare; all 3. They made me weep, exult, despair & hope...
    And it was THE BEST FUN!!
    I practically went into mourning when this superb trilogy ended; I missed it quite a lot. (ok, over it now)
    But seriously, this is a trilogy I will read again, and again, and again, and again, infinitum....

  3. Loved it! Amazing story that you can get lost in. I'm so glad I read it and I look forward to seeing the movies!

    Grace Crawford Ron Fay's Fishing Trips Alaska