I’ve signed up for Goodreads, and attached a widget to the bottom of my blog here. I’m not promising to keep it updated, especially as I tend to go through phases of reading loads, followed by a month or so of nothing. Still, as I work in a bookshop, I have decided to make my opinions slightly more public than I’m used to!
Read on for my thoughts on Mockingjay, the third Hunger games book, which I loved, despite a few flaws.
Mockingjay – Suzanne Collins
After the cliffhanger at the end of Catching Fire, I was ready for an epic piece of storytelling to round off this trilogy, and dived straight into Mockingjay.
It was not entirely what I expected.
About two thirds of the way through I realised that I really didn’t like the way it was going. Major plot developments had occurred, but mostly while Katniss was sedated in hospital. On several occasions she wakes up, and someone helpfully fills her in on how the plot has progressed while she’s been out cold. If this had happened once, fine, but it occurs repeatedly throughout the book. As a reader I got a great sense of missing out on so much. This is partly the fault of the first-person perspective, and partly because that first-person is no longer at the centre of the unfolding events. Katniss is pretty much reduced to a bystander in much of this book, contributing little more than an occasional minor decision.
One of the things I loved about Katniss in the first two books was that she was a strong character, defying authority and making her own decisions which deeply affected the storyline. You never doubted that she was the heroine of the tale. In Mockingjay she is reduced to a puppet for District 13: she does what they tell her to (or hides in cramped corners and cupboards in some kind of recurring shock) and gets swept along by events outside her control which, due to the first-person perspective, we don’t even get to see or experience – we just hear second-hand from other character’s descriptions as they fill her in. When she eventually decides to make a break from the rebel forces and struggles through the Capitol with her little band – encountering traps and dangers, losing most of her team and beloved characters along the way – I thought that the pace was picking up and finally something was about to happen. Katniss the heroine was surely about to make her epic return… Then they break through into the centre of the Capitol only to find they’ve caught up with the rebel forces again, and have achieved nothing more than finding an alternative, more dangerous, route to the same spot. Cue confusion, that final fire bombing, and once again Katniss is out cold, and has to be filled in on the rest of the rebellion when she wakes up. The Rebels succeeded, the Capitol fell, and all while our character was unconscious: we missed it all. As a reader, that’s a bit frustrating. The final ending is bittersweet, and we are left with the impression of two deeply scarred individuals slowly trying to piece some kind of life back together in a ruined district, pretty much abandoned by everyone else.
My initial reaction was that the author had betrayed the part of me that was expecting an epic story: where the heroine encounters difficult decisions, tragedy and loss but ultimately triumphs; where everything that happens has some kind of meaning and furthers the plot- after all, every detail is chosen and included by the author, presumably for a reason. Instead I came away feeling as though so many things that happened in the book were ultimately pointless, and could have been worked to be so much more meaningful.
Then I read the acknowledgements, and that changed my opinion. The part which reads “Special love to my late father, Michael Collins, who laid the groundwork for this series with his deep commitment to education his children on war and peace”. I still feel Mockingjay is a bittersweet and disheartening ending to the series, but it somehow makes a lot more sense now. If the author was trying to pass on that sense of the futility of war and conflict: people die randomly and for no good reason, the deep mental scarring it leaves behind, the way war changes people and pushes them apart, how even a strong character can be worn down by the consequences of their actions and the horrors they have seen, and the way that there is no truly happy ending after a war, then I think this is a brilliant book. It denies us the fairytale ending we expect from a novel, and presents us with something more deeply affecting than a simple ‘Peeta dies tragically, she defies the Capitol, wins the war, turns into a campaigner for equality, marries Gale and settles into a new life of prosperity and freedom’. All the sedation and seclusion of our main character (and therefore our eyes in the story) does rob us of being able to see what’s going on in the wider world during the rebellion, but at the same time brings home that more realistic sense that Katniss’ ability to control the situation is taken away from her. Things are moving beyond her understanding and control, and she is largely shut out of the planning and decision making. Though that sense of helplessness is a very uncomfortable feeling for her, and for the reader, I think (though I’ve personally never been in a war zone) it gives a better sense of how helpless being caught in conflict could make us feel, but it does so at the expense of the storytelling.
So much happens in Mockingjay. There are some truly touching moments where I had to blink back tears, but on the whole it feels as though important plot points are whizzed through, and major events are described in just a couple of lines. It keeps the story rolling, but leaves you wanting more. I’m really looking forward to seeing how they translate this book into film as it has huge potential to be something brilliant. I liked the way the Hunger Games film gave a greater meaning to a few moments (the Mockingjay pin, the way Rue nursed Katniss in the woods, etc.) and I hope the same treatment is given to Mockingjay. That would at least assuage some of that lasting feeling of hopelessness and meaninglessness that dogs so many parts this book. I definitely think it needs to be spread over two films to make full use of the fact that we’re no longer contained by Katniss’ first-person perspective: all those days we lost in the book while she was sedated can be opened up to tell the full story. I feel as though I’ve only read part of the story so far, and I hope the films will help fill in the gaps and satisfy my curiosity.