Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Catching Fire - Suzanne Collins

If there are any people left on the planet who haven't read The Hunger Games I'm not sure were they are hiding. I must have been the last one to read it (although I did manage before seeing the movie). As with many books that are surrounded by that much hype, it didn't quite live up to its reputation but it was a decent enough read. I've been hearing mixed things about the next two volumes in this trilogy though, so I've put reading the second book off for a bit. My girlfriend brought her copy of Catching Fire from Norway this week so I guess there are no more excuses. Like The Hunger Games, the second volume is a quick read. It was not nearly as engaging as the first book though. I've begun to suspect that this is one of the series one should only read the first part of.

After their dual victory in the Hunger Games, Katniss and Peeta try to settle in the victor's village in district twelve. With her winnings Katniss tries to help as many people as possible but things have changed. As much as she wants to, there is no slipping back into her old life. Something that is underlined by president Snow himself, when he shows up to tell her what is expected of her in the tour of the districts the winners are supposed to make after their victory. Her defiance of the Capital has seriously undermined his authority. In many of the districts discontent is obvious and rebellion is simmering right under the surface. On a more personal level, Katniss seems unable to fix her relationship with Gale. The constant pressure of having to keep up the star crossed lovers charade with Peeta is weighing heavily on Gale. An explosive situation on all levels.

For a large part of the novel, Katniss is dealing with the fall out of her performance in the Hunger Games. As the effects of her defiance ripple though the districts, Katniss has plenty of time to consider her position. It makes Catching Fire a lot slower than the first book, especially in the opening chapters. I guess Katniss is finding out why winners of the Hunger Games rarely are able to settle back in any kind of normal life. With guilt over there acts or mere survival pursuing them, the knowledge of the truth behind the Games and the Capital's power weighing on them and the estrangement from their friends and families setting them apart, more than one victor has fled into destructive lifestyles or substance abuse. Katniss feels it, she is restless, as discontent as the districts appear to be, and it makes her a bit of a whiny character. In fact, she is so absorbed in her own misery that she misses quite a bit of what goes on around her.

Like the first volume, Catching Fire is written in the first person and the present tense. It took me a couple of chapters to get back into this unusual style. More than in The Hunger Games, I feel Collins is running into the limitations of a first person narrative. She is playing her part, sometimes sees glimpses of the effect her actions have on the population, but mostly she is kept in the dark. Behind the facade of the Capital's unquestionable power a lot is going on. Public opinion sways, resistance is growing and violence erupts all out of sight. Katniss certainly faces her own challenges but I didn't think her part of the story the most interesting development in the book. While the interesting stuff is happening out of sight, the reader works their way though a novel that is part dark reflection on events from the first book and part repetition of the Hunger Games ritual.

Once again, I was struck by the sheer unlikeliness of the way the Capital expresses its power over its subjects. In Catching Fire we gear up to the 75th edition and even with the problems with this show of power obviously exposed in the last Games, they insist on an even more brutal version this time around. President Snow feels his power has been undermined by Katniss' refusal to kill Peeta and his ultimate answer to this problem is putting her in the same position again, which makes very little sense to me. I guess the outcome is more or less predictable.  Where in The Hunger Games you have a pretty good feeling of where the story is heading, there is still the puzzle of how Katniss will manage to get there. In Catching Fire, Katniss lets others find the solutions for her. Collins foreshadows a lot of events in the final chapters adequately and manages to avoid a true deus ex machina ending, but it is far from the strongest finale I have read. It absolutely pales in comparison to how she managed in the first novel.

I guess you could say I wasn't very impressed with this novel. It advances Katniss' struggle with the Capitol a little but not is a way that is very exciting to read about. Katniss herself is far from the admirable and capable young woman she has shown herself to be in the first volume and manages to be in the centre of the action with absolutely no idea what is going on. Fortunately Catching Fire is a quick read or I would have been seriously tempted to put the book down and read something else. No doubt there are readers who will devour this book with equal enthusiasms as the previous one, and dive right into the third book in the series, I'm afraid such devotion is not for me. I think I will borrow my girlfriend's copy of Mockingjay as well. I am mildly curious about the final showdown between Katniss and president Snow, but not enough to actually buy a copy.

Book Details
Title: Catching Fire
Author: Suzanne Collins
Publisher: Scholastic
Pages: 472
Year: 2009
Language: English
Format: Mass Market Paperback
ISBN: 978-1-407109-36-7
First published: 2009


  1. I felt very much the same about this one, and although I did have a crack at the final book 3 I never finished just wound me up way too much.

    1. I think I will manage the third book, the are blessedly quick reads. Might be a while before I can get my hands on a copy though. Might have to go pick it up in Norway :P

  2. I haven't read it yet. It's vaguely on my radar, but not even on my wish list yet...I have a very large TBR...

    1. Me too as usual. I swear, those books breed while on the TBR stack. I wouldn't make this one a priority ;)