Monday, October 26, 2009

Book Review: Catching Fire

This is long.

If you have the patience, read on.

If you're a fan, you will enjoy this.

If you have not read the book yet, forego reading this review unless you really want to know where the smoke comes from.

There are SPOILERS so don't say I did not warn you.

Catching Fire immediately started where The Hunger Games ended. In this second installment, Katniss and Peeta struggle to survive the post Hunger Games trauma. Both continue to promote their on screen romance although, for Peeta, it has always been as real as bread. Their dark, haunting dreams are aplenty, but facing the districts of the dead tributes when they do the rounds of the victory tour is a living nightmare. A grave threat looms over Katniss's loved ones, including her pretend cousin Gale, because, her performance and victory in the Games reek off rebellion. For Katniss, the fake suicide was was many things but it was primarily an attempt to save her life and Peeta's. For Panem's terrorized majority, it was a sign that the Capitol can be challenged. Soon, sparks of insurgency erupted in different districts prompting President Snow to bring back Katniss and Peeta, and a host of past victors to the third Quarter Quell, an upsized Hunger Games in remembrance of Panem's Dark Days. Katniss and Peeta once again face their adversaries only to find out that they were merely a part of a conspiracy plan to overthrow President Snow and the Capitol's ruling elite.

What worked
Changes. Challenges. Choices. These are themes that surround Catching Fire and its predecessor, The Hunger Games that readers can flesh out, put back and break down again and again. This is the beauty of HG and CF. It lends new insights, perspectives and possibilities to readers of all ages. Best of all, it opens readers to the complicated nature of the human spirit. Collins may have not consciously intended the books to be an avenue where one can profoundly examine the complexities of the human heart and mind, but I, at least, could not help but delve into the motivations of the book's characters and the reasons for their decisions. I even came to a point when I had to imagine myself in the shoes of her characters, some are flat, predictable and stereotypical. There are, however, characters in the round who transform and grow as the novel unfolds.

Collins has created flawed and conflicted characters you could not easily forget. There's Haymitch who is more than a drunkard. Cinna, Katniss's stylist during the games, who can create fantabulous costumes but expressed his own brand of rebellion half way through the book. I imagine him to be a young Michael Caine in the movie Ms. Congeniality. If I cried over Rue in HG it is Cinna whom I shed tears for in CF. My heart goes out to Finnick Odair, a popular victor of the Games who is in love with a deranged woman. Gale Hawthorne who I predict will be a Che Guevarra in the making is beginning to grow on me. But I remain in the Team Peeta flagship. Yes, I'm all the way for the boy with the bread.

Apart from Rue, Johanna Mason and Mags, Finnick's eighty year old mentor, are the female characters I admire. Mrs. Everdeen and Prim are accessories to highlight Katniss's strengths and weaknesses. They also contribute to the plausibility of Katniss' reason for being. She became a hunter to feed them. She learned mistrust when her mother withdrew from the reality of her father's death. Her relationship with Prim tethers her to the concept of family. And it is this connection that she holds on so dearly or else, she will lose her sense of self. Finally, I came to understand the girl on fire.

This vulnerability could only lead me to cheer and root for a Peeta-Katniss tandem in book three. But I doubt. In the end, I have a sinking feeling that Gale will win her over from this trilogy's resident nerd. It's unfair. The nerd deserves the girl. Gale's response to the rebellion is more aggressive. Peetah is the active non-violent kind who will exhaust all efforts for negotiations and dialogues. As for the rebellion, this is something Katniss continues to evade unsuccessfully.

Looking at the romance angle, it is an allegory on choices and self-identity. Katniss is in the middle of two different ideologies and identities for which she is too confused to decide on. Peetah and Gale are representations of two sides of the rebellion. Katniss kissed Gale in the woods. Peeta in the arena. What else can I say but, Go girl! By the end of CF, she loses Peeta and District 12. She may have woken up with Gale looking down upon her offering nothing but the truth, but (as I'm keeping my fingers crossed), it is Peeta whom she will be motivated to save from the crutches of the Capitol.

2010 seems too far off.

What did not work
The Point of View. I would have wanted to know the mind scape of the other characters.

I'm on my third reading of HG and CF. Call me a fan, but it's the psychological unfolding of each character and their responses to the external environment that keeps me going back to the books. In general, CF, like HG is being enjoyed by readers of all ages. This only goes to show that Collins has written a well crafted novel that does not use sex or the sensual appeal of the undead.

Source for image:


Carolyn said...

I liked reading your reviews of both THG and CF because of your "what worked" and "what didn't work" format. While I'm obsessed with the books, I found CF much less satisfying but have not been able to identify why. Ah, well.

What you say about the books being like magnifying glasses to the human intellect is so true. That's what makes Collins a truly *great* writer.

I do want to object to your "the nerd deserves the girl" thing, though. Yes, Peeta is a better person-- Katniss has said that herself many times. But remember that she's not a prize, she's a person who will be more or less compatible with different people. She and Gale have similar natures, which is part of why she's conflicted. So just remember that there are two sides to every romance, not just one!

Zarah Grace C. Gagatiga said...

hi carolyn -- thanks for liking my review format. i like things less complicated :-)

CF leaves readers hanging -- in suspended animation is what i think it is.

as for the romance angle, gale's way of loving appeals to me less. i think peeta has made GREATER sacrifices for katniss but she's just too proud to even recognize her own feelings for him. so, i think you're right. gale and katniss do DESERVE each other since theirs is a relationship that is very biological.

Anonymous said...

what an excellent piece of writing!

I loved your synopsis and your take on Hunger Games and Catching Fire!I am Team Peeta too! He and Katniss are my most favorite characters in the book!


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