Saturday, January 5, 2013

Book Review

I’m not much of one for writing or reading reviews, generally.  I just read what I want and if I don’t like it, I stop halfway through without a qualm.  Also, reviews have a really, really annoying way of giving away the plot.

However, for today’s post I’m suspending my usual preference.  As I mentioned on New Year’s, I’ve been afflicted with a cold.  It’s finally, definitively better today, but I’ve basically been curled up in bed or in an easy chair for the past four days, trying to get better. 

Of course, about the only thing to do in such a case is read.  So I finally plunged into The Hunger Games Trilogy.  I’d been meaning to read it since shortly before the first movie came out, but teaching always got in the way.  Hooray for sickness to give one lots of spare time, I guess!

Anyway, I figured I might as well jump on the bandwagon and share my thoughts about the series.  First of all, it’s grippingly written.  To be sure, I had a few moments at the beginning where I wanted to scream about poorly attached subordinate clauses.  (Yes, I’m a grammar Nazi – it’s the hazards of scrupulously editing one’s own work, while grading an average of 12 English essays every week!)  However, as the flow of the story picked up, the style became smoother and more expert.  It worked well to convey Katniss Everdeen’s personality, but didn’t distract the reader from the action. 

Theseus, looking suitably battered and heroic!
Second point: The Hunger Games was excellent.  The tribute to the Theseus legend was craftily and subtly executed, and I appreciated all the characters who were developed.  Katniss is strong and resourceful, not soft at all, and a bit emotionally clueless, which all makes sense, based on her personal background.  Rue and Peeta provide a nice balance to her personality – a sort of yang to her yin – which allows her to develop and begin to understand herself more.  Haymitch and Cinna, the other two focus characters, feel a little two-dimensional, but the knowledge of a sequel made me more lenient towards their lack. 

I also greatly appreciated the social commentary worked into the story.  What has always appealed to me about science fiction is the possibility for philosophical and political exploration – the option to take current issues and draw them out to their most extreme, yet most thought-provoking conclusion.  The Hunger Games did this for me, while at the same time remaining an exciting, never too self-conscious read. 

Catching Fire provided a satisfying, if incomplete, follow-up to the first book.  I felt that character development was well handled, since the presence of Gale as a more important character lent tension to Katniss and Peeta’s relationship.  I was also pleased in general with the broader array of people to catch my interest; the inclusion of the victors of past hunger games allowed the story to open in an interesting way.  A specific, rather than universal, villain is always helpful to a story, as well, and President Snow fulfilled this role very well. 

My complaint about Catching Fire was that death was handled less carefully than in the first book.  Katniss had many more attachments in the sequel, but seemed to care about them less.  People died quickly and she had nightmares about them, but that was about the extent of the effect on her.  My other problem was that the pacing of the end seemed very whirlwind to me.  I think authors should be extremely stingy when it comes to doling out cliffhangers.  To me it seemed a little like Ms. Collins felt the pressure to end her book and so wrapped it up in a dash, leaving our heads spinning.  Considering that the entire last book simply continued this spin, I was left feeling a bit seasick. 

As you can probably guess from the above comment, Mockingjay left me with mixed feelings.  I didn’t have any trouble with the overall lines of the plot.  It even made sense to me that Katniss should end up somewhat left behind by the political machinations.  After all, she’s only 17; even in science-fiction, comparatively average teenagers can’t take over governments.  However, too much time was spent worrying about political and military strategies.  The strength of the first two books was the spotlight on Katniss and Peeta and a few crucial others.  Hints appeared about what was happening in the adult world, but the heart of the plot was the character interactions. 

I think perhaps the author became confused about what she wanted to accomplish.  Yes, war is horrible, but the choice to show this by systematically breaking down almost every important character into a vague wreck of themselves – it definitely backfired.  Collins didn’t seem to realize that by allowing both Peeta and Katniss to disintegrate, she failed to find plot balance.  In the first book, Katniss was spurred toward development by Peeta’s presence.  In the second book, they worked through their troubles together.  In the third, the author could have made Peeta’s break-down a chance for Katniss to rise to the occasion.  There was no rising, though.  Instead, she seemed to fall apart and become far more selfish than was actually right, given the personality constructed for her in the first book. 

This was the feeling of the last, but confused!
I don’t mind dark, realistic, gritty literature.  I’m someone who finds the story of Oedipus Rex incredibly uplifting!  However, any good tragedy has to have its proper climax, crisis and resolution.  The resolution in Mockingjay was too hasty.  Instead the crisis seemed simply to draw on until it fizzled out.  I still appreciate the book for many elements, but I thought it was the weakest of the trilogy – sad, since it was also the end. 

So in short, I enjoyed the series, but have serious criticism of the shift of the plot focus as the story progressed.  However, I would recommend it to older teenagers, since I definitely feel that it has intelligent commentary to make on mass entertainment and war, plus the effect the later can have on people.  I found it interesting and thought-provoking overall, and worth even a second read.  

1 comment:

  1. I appreciate your reading this series. While I had a tad bit of interest. Last year was more of a writing than reading year. And I have a few more projects to address. Including a second grandchild due in the summer. I hope to make some time for reading books. It seems though that while I am not reading bound material I am enjoying many other poetic and interesting voices.
    The weather does seem to trip us up occasionally. I do hope you return to health soon. Cheers.