Sunday, October 7, 2012

Mockingjay - Suzanne Collins

I'm in Norway at the moment (although I'll likely be back home before I publish the review) and that means I have the opportunity to borrow my girlfriend's copy of the final Hunger Games book. I own the first book in the series, The Hunger Games, which was mildly entertaining in a brutal way, but didn't really live up to the enormous hype that surrounds it. It might even have worked better a movie. It followed the book pretty closely but I ended up liking the movie better. Stubborn as I am, I did decide to finish the series, despite not really liking Catching Fire, the second book in the trilogy. There is always hope the third one will be better but I'm afraid things only go downhill in this final volume. I certainly hope Collins is smart enough not to try and cash in even more on these stories an leave it at these three. This series really has run its course

Katniss has survived her second arena but survival is all it can be called. She is hurt badly both physically and psychologically. The rulers of District Thirteen try to patch her up as best they can but Katniss is depressed and traumatized. Peeta is in the hands of the Capital, suffering the consequences of her actions and her relationship with Gale seems to have changed forever. There is no peace for the weary though. Katniss has a value as figurehead for the rebellion in the Districts. The president of District Thirteen is well aware of that. She will do whatever it takes get Katniss to cooperate and become their mascot, their inspiration, their Mockingjay. The final battle for control of Panem has started.

Mockingjay is without a doubt one of the most depressive novels I have read in a long time. Katniss is a mess in this book. Not surprising given what has been done to her or course, I thought she wasn't nearly traumatized enough in the first novel to make the story believable. In this book Katniss positively wallows in her misery tough. She is hurting bad and frequently passes that on to the people around her, all of whom have their own wounds to heal. Katniss is stubborn, unreasonable, suspicious, sometimes even paranoid. She is also only a step short of being suicidal. It is very dark material considering these books are supposed to be young adult.

I can't say I like Katniss a whole lot in this novel even if her misery is understandable enough. She is pushed into a number of situations where she really shouldn't be in and inevitably ends up making some poor choices. Collins' depiction of District thirteen is almost as bad as that of the Panem. Where the Capital is decadent, District thirteen has adopted a Spartan way of life. Militaristic to the bone, without considerations for anything but survival and completely focussed on destroying the Capital. One of Katniss' many dilemmas in the novel is figuring out if the cure might not be worse than the disease. Would a Panem run by president Coin be any better than one run by president Snow? This question is explored in detail as the reality of the war that is being fought becomes clear to Katniss. The book contains just about every dirty trick and despicable act imaginable short of sexual violence. That, apparently, is where the line is in YA.

Collins' view on this war is a very cynical one. Every rebel we get to see is driven by a need for revenge or a lust for power. Motives to take part in the struggle are carefully disguised to be just and fair but underneath there is no ideology, dreams of a better future or even an idea what that future should look like. The war is all consuming, driving both parties to extreme violence, and apparently leaving no room for thought on what a post-war society should look like. Interesting enough, one of the few things both parties agree on is that the follies or our civilization, that was destroyed by war centuries ago in the novel, should not be repeated. Personally, I doubt these people really have learnt anything. In fact, at the very end of the novel the new President appears to agree with me. Or at least says that any lessons from the war are temporary at best.

I got very little in the way of positive emotions from this novel. I'm not even sure Katniss has any idea why she bothers putting up the Mockingjay show for District Thirteen. Perhaps the most telling scene come at the very end of the novel where a new round of Hunger Games are proposed and Katniss actually votes in favour. It is  typical for the lack of direction and sense of purpose she has in this novel. While I have to admit it is entirely in character, it is not a joy to read. Especially early on it the novel, where Katniss agonizes over the decision of whether or not to become the Mockingjay, the book does very little for me. It is a repetition of issues faced in the first two books mostly. The final part of the book is more action packed and, if possible, even more desperate. It reads a little better, although the outcome of the war is a forgone conclusion.

Maybe the novel has something to offer for readers who are more interested in the love triangle that is an overarching theme in the trilogy. The whole thing is pretty forced in my opinion. All the acting Katniss and Peeta have done, should pretty much have killed any chance of an honest relationship before one even started. I'm not particularly impressed with the way Collins resolved this problem. I must admit is does offer a tiny ray of hope in what is otherwise a very, very dark story but the outcome feels a bit too neat.

As usual with overhyped books I can't help but wondering if the people who rave about this novel have actually read other books. I think the first novel is mildly appealing but as a whole, the trilogy falls flat. Catching Fire is in part repetition and, in the end, relies on things that go on far away from the main character. Mockingjay is long litany of everything that is wrong in Katniss' world, combined with a war that has been decided before it started and some very unsatisfactory resolutions a the end. I guess if there is a lesson to be drawn from this read, it is for me to stay away from books that generate this level of raving.

Book Details
Title: Mockingjay
Author: Suzanne Collins
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Pages: 448
Year: 2010
Language: English
Format: Mass Market Paperback
ISBN: 978-1-407-10937-4
First published: 2010


  1. I really struggled to empathise with this review ... you seem to have expected something completely different from the what the book was delivering. Yes, Katniss is a mess, makes bad choices etc etc - that's the sign of a three-dimensional character who has been formed in response to the events of the story.

    You talk about how the lack of positive emotions is a detractive feature, as if all books should have them to be successful. Obviously this series is depressive in nature and I personally found that intriguing and beautiful - not everything is happy endings and archetypal protagonists.

    On a more personal note, I found Peta and Katniss' relationship complex and interesting because of the very points you made. Because of the constant acting they are left in a place where neither one knows how they other, or themselves, honestly feels, yet these horrific experiences they have shared have bonded them irrevocably nonetheless.

    Of course this is my personal opinion against yours, and I'm not intending to attack this review at all ... but I found it strange that you were questioning/criticising Collins' views and decisions, rather the book/story itself.

  2. People have been warnng me I wouldn't like this one. I wouldn't say I was expecting something different but I was certainly hoping for it. From the previous two books the main issues that had to be dealt with were obvious. The plot was not all that surprising. Collins sets out to wrap up the main storylines, that bit was certainly what I was expecting.

    Positive emotions... Not all books have to have them obviously. This book didn't need a happy ending, disillusionment is fitting enough. But it would have been a lot more powerful if we had seen a Katniss who believes in this war she is fighting rather and *then* reaching the point where she believes it doesn't really matter who wil win, instead of nor caring from the first page of the novel. She is going through the motions for most of the story, no drive, neither positive or negative. That is what makes her uninteresting.

    As for love triangles, those are not an element in the story that usually draws me in. I didn't think Collins did a bad job of it but I didn't like the way in which Katniss has the choice made for her in the end. Katniss doesn't get a lot of choices in these novels. In fact, after volunteering in book one, most of them are made for her. It would have been nice to let her have this one.

  3. Hm yeah, I'm just not one for questioning the plot itself ... it is what the author has chosen to create and give to us. Fair enough to criticise the delivery of it, but experiencing stories that are sometimes different or contrary to what we expect or want makes them interesting.

    Personally I loved how Katniss was an incidental 'hero' and her inexperience and apathy made for a fresh and interesting take - I didn't need another omnipotent, driven protagonist; Collins' was a much more realistic and gritty portrayal of what would happen to an unremarkable young girl who is thrust into a war.

  4. I tend to agree with this review. I liked the first book, but the 2nd and 3rd smacked of trying to wring more out of a story that just didn't have the legs for a trilogy.

  5. Personally, this was my favorite of the three, because it is more realistic. Katniss should be a traumatized mess who is depressed and desperate. The war is supposed to be pointless and empty. Coin is just as evil as Snow, as all who are willing to kill to gain power are. It IS dystopian after all. Warm fuzzies are supposed to be absent... and yes I have read other books so :P

    1. Traumatized and depressed when the story starts, traumatized and depressed throughout and traumatized and depressed when the story ends. So where is the character development? :P

      It may be realistic for her character but it is not particularly interesting in my opinion.