Saturday, December 18

Catching Fire - Suzanne Collins

Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark, the first ever duo to survive the Hunger Games, have returned home. As promised, their District now has more food, along with more prosperity, and her family has been rehoused. Her troubles are, however, far from over; she foresaw relationship problems, both with Peeta (on whose pronouncements of love their survival hinged) and with Gale (whom she has long loved).
But Katniss and Peeta’s duties are far from over, and their transgressions have not been forgiven. As they are fĂȘted through all the provinces, Katniss and Peeta see increasing signs of civil unrest; when confronted with the stark contrast between starvation in their own District and profligate waste in the Capital they are sickened. And when the 75th annual Hunger Games are announced, things get even worse – the third Quarter Quell has a twist that is intended to punish Katniss and Peeta for their offence against the state.
It’s difficult to get too far in to the plot without giving away essential and surprising elements of this compelling and really well written centrepiece in a stunning trilogy. Cleverness abounds – the game design concept is startling this time around, and the science of psychology is exquisite. There are influences everywhere, from Ancient Rome to reality television, crafted into a wholly original and spell binding whole. As I mentioned in my review of the first in the series, The Hunger Games, the world building is reminiscent of Westerfeld’s Uglies trilogy, which similarly contrasted youth and rebellion with governmental totalitarianism; The Hunger Games and Catching Fire, though, are darker. There’s also a degree of complexity that’s interesting – not in the twisting plot, for Westerfeld is adept at that, but in the layers of control and suppression, compliance and impotence, that are the shared experience of the general population and depicted in the chief protagonists.
One of the most striking moments, among many, comes at a ball in the Capital – fresh from literal starvation at home, the scenes of wilful gluttony for the sake of conspicuous consumption, are nauseating. That scene manages to encapsulate a lot of what is at the heart of the narrative – a total disconnect between the rulers and the ruled, heartless spectacle mindless of cost, humanised by the presence of the powerless.
This moment is not alone – there are numerous descriptions, opaque and direct, demonstrating the untempered power and disfavour of President Snow and his cohort, and the growing anger of the populace. Katniss is brave and fearless for herself, but not particularly devious, which allows the reader to spot some of the coming action before she does and, fittingly, the importance of a symbol. Her growing sense of targeted anger, her awareness of injustice, is a sped up microcosm of the populace at large, perfectly portrayed.
Collins’ writing is invisible and nuanced, her characters vivid and compelling, and the premise is intriguing. I strongly suspect I’ll be returning to this series in a year or so, and have the third (and sadly final) installment on reserve, a disappointingly long way down a lengthy list. – Alex

No comments: