Sunday, September 7, 2014

Review: Mockingjay (The Hunger Games #3)

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

Publisher: Scholastic, 2010 
438 pages, paperback
Source: Purchased through Kmart

May the odds be ever in your favour

If we burn you burn with us.

Katniss Everdeen has survived the Hunger Games twice. But she's still not safe. A revolution is unfolding, and everyone, it seems, has had a hand in the carefully laid plans - everyone except Katniss.

And yet she must play the most vital part in the final battle. Katniss must become their Mockingjay - the symbol of rebellion - no matter what the personal cost.

My Review:
It’s a brave author who decides to end a trilogy with a dramatic departure from the format of the first two books. While it’s not quite as extreme as, say, J.K. Rowling deciding to write a Harry Potter book without Harry Potter in it, Collins decided that the final book of The Hunger Games would not feature an edition of the in-universe Hunger Games at any point. I must admit that, thanks to my inability to resist internet spoilers, I was aware of this before I started this book, and I was a little bit wary of it for that reason: in both of the previous novels, I found that the narrative didn’t really pick up its pace until Katniss was in the arena, where Collins’ skill at relaying the breathless pace of the competition carried the plot forward at breakneck speed.

I can see the reasoning behind this development. For one thing, it would perhaps be straining credibility to have Katniss compete in three consecutive games, especially after her actions in the arena at the end of the second book. Also, the device of the Hunger Games limits the stories that Collins can tell – since the stories are told in first-person narration from Katniss’s perspective, if Katniss is in the arena then we don’t get to see what’s going on in the world outside, and at this point the main conflict is between Katniss and President Snow. As a result, Mockingjay is about the war to wrest control back from the Capitol, led by President Coin of District 13. Rather than being a pawn in the Games in this book, Katniss becomes the figurehead of the revolution, the titular Mockingjay who is deployed by the rebels to inspire people in the other districts to join the uprising.

There is a slight problem in all of this, however: the need to keep Katniss safe to continue as the figurehead means that she’s kept out of the fighting, for the most part, which means in turn that most of the real action happens where she (and therefore we) do not see it. Since so much of the novel involves Katniss not entirely knowing what’s going on and waiting for news from elsewhere, the prose has a similar sluggish feel to the pre-Games segments of the previous two books. There’s a sense that something huge is about to happen, but the constant waiting for Katniss to be there when it does can get frustrating.

That said, once Katniss rebels against the rebellion, as it were, and heads out with a brigade of featured players to take down President Snow, the urgency that Collins captures so well returns to the book. Things are different this time around, however – in an interesting twist, the real world proves to be far darker and more twisted than the Hunger Games, and there’s an overarching cynicism about human nature in the denouement that’s surprisingly bold for a young adult novel. There aren’t any easy answers in Collins’ universe, and nor is there any great poetry around the casualties of the conflict: some big characters are offed with little fanfare, which is a refreshingly realistic look at the unfairness of war, but it’s also a little dramatically unsatisfying, especially since Katniss has an annoying habit of not noticing people have died so we end up learning about it secondhand.

One of the greatest strengths of the first two books was Katniss herself, and her admirable resilience despite the horrors that she faced. The Katniss of Mockingjay is very different, as Collins hasn’t shied away from portraying the psychological scars that Katniss’s previous experiences have left her with. She is, it’s fair to say, a harder character to love this time around: the Quarter Quell, in particular, has left her unable to trust anyone any more, so there’s a guardedness and a bullishness about her behaviour that distances her even from the reader. Her singular obsession with stopping President Snow and her anger about the things that have been done to her and her family occasionally make her less than wholly sympathetic, but it’s a credit to the way the character has been developed throughout the trilogy that I found myself understanding why she felt this way, even if I didn’t necessarily agree with her decisions.

Ultimately, Mockingjay is a brave departure from the formula – one that I expect is divisive among fans of the series for this very reason, but I admire Collins for the ambition within this book, and for challenging the readers’ expectations. Despite the various objections above, I actually enjoyed it and found it a fitting conclusion to the series – given the dystopia that was established earlier on, a truly happy ending would’ve felt rather a cheat, and bittersweet was probably the best we could’ve hoped for. It’s a bleak read, but definitely worth persevering with.

My Rating:

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