Courtney Johnston's Reviews > Catching Fire

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins
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's review
Jun 19, 2010

really liked it
bookshelves: fiction, own
Read from August 20 to 23, 2010

A NYT review of 'Catching Fire' described Suzanne Collins as "delightfully ruthless", and it's a particularly apt description.

Compared to the frantic pace of the first book in the trilogy, 'The Hunger Games', the first third of 'Catching Fire' dragged a little, as we're set-up to fully understand Katniss's dilemma. Katniss won the Hunger Games, the annual Minotaur-like event in which the 12 Districts must send a male and female teenage tribute to fight to the death in a specially-constructed Arena in the Capitol. The event is designed to simultaneously provide entertainment for residents in the Capitol and remind the Districts of their subservient status, but Katniss played the game too well. Not only did she survive, but by allying herself with the male tribute from her district, Peeta, and selling the residents of the Capitol an irresistible tale of two star-crossed lovers forced by the state to fight each other to the death, she pulls off an outcome unheard of in the GAmes' history - two tributes emerge from the killing den alive.

Back in District 12 now, ensconced in the Victor's Village (with the sole other District 12 victor in the Games' 74-year history, their drunken mentor Haymitch) Peeta and Katniss swiftly learn that their victory over the Capitol will have life-long effects. As they are paraded through the other Districts (in a particularly gruelling touch, they have to make speeches from a dais placed directly in front of the families of the tributes who were killed) signs of an uprising against the Capitol begin to filter through.

This stuff is well-written, but kind of tiresome - you know something better is coming (plus, you're a grown-up, and you get the symbolism already). However when the twist comes, and with it the return to the Arena, it's a total, and extremely enjoyable shock - as the reviewer put it, delightfully ruthless. And the desperate actions of the tributes and devious actions of the gamemakers - even more fiendish and inventive than in the first book - are among some of the most gripping passages I've read.

Mercifully, Collins makes it plenty apparent (that symbolism again, along with some straight-to-camera stuff) that while the violence as entertainment is arresting, it's also wrong. It's interesting in a way - as cinematic as her writing is, I can't imagine anyone ever being brave enough to to make this into a film. How can you show fourteen year olds bludgeoning each other to death with stones or ripping each other's throats out with their teeth? (More fool me - I just checked IMDB and naturally, the project is in development).

I guess it goes to show that books still - in their long-format, multiple view-point way - stand a better chance than movies or video games in both telling us a story and offering us a variety of ways to understand it.

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