Book review: Mockingjay, Suzanne Collins
Don’t pick up Mockingjay if you’re feeling down, because: sheesh. I don’t mind my books bleak, but this one punches through “bleak” and into the depths of some cold, hopeless void on the other side. (Spoilers ahead, for all three instalments of The Hunger Games trilogy.)
This is probably why, when I finished Mockingjay, I thought: “I did not like that.” A little later: “No, I did. Kind of. For a certain definition of ‘like’.” It’s a pretty brutal read, much more so than the previous two instalments – and that’s saying something, given they were about children forced into a sickening battle to the death.
So, as the book opens, life is pretty shitty for heroine Katniss Everdeen: her home in District 12 has been vaporised, she’s living with the rebels in the militarised District 13, and she must decide whether she actually wants to become the Mockingjay – the face of the revolution to overthrown the Capitol and the nefarious President Snow.
Katniss spends a lot of a time faffing over whether she really wants to be the Mockingjay. Boy, does she spend a lot of time faffing: when it’s not about the Mockingjay thing, it’s whether she prefers Gale or Peeta (who, by the way, has been tortured to insanity. Told you it was a cheery book). Much of the first two thirds of the book aren’t especially memorable, plot-wise, though the ever-increasing cynicism is sometimes shocking. Katniss, it transpires, is not a hero – no matter how much she’s told she’s vital to the revolution, she’s really just a pawn to be manipulated, by political leaders, by the media, and even by her nearest and dearest. Mockingjay is not a straight-up goodies vs. baddies book, because most of the characters fall square into “grey”; it’s a step beyond the black-and-white morality of Harry Potter, though not as complex as Chaos Rising.
The story builds to a climax as Katniss and her friends invade the heart of the Capitol (which is conveniently laden with traps reminiscent of the morbidly compelling horrors in the Hunger Games’ arenas), and honestly, it’s this part of the book that really brought Mockingjay down for me. I’m about to totally, explicitly spoil it, so quit reading this review now if you ever plan on reading the series.
Seriously, last chance to get out.
Okay. Strike one: Prim’s death. Not only was it clunkily telegraphed (as soon as she told Katniss she’d started training to be a doctor, it was obvious she’d bite it before the last page), it was contrived, and unnecessary. The war would have broken Katniss irrepairably anyway, so throwing Prim’s death on top of the other horrors seemed like bleak-for-the-sake-of-bleak.
Up till Prim’s death the climax is all rather exciting, but as soon as she blows up Collins adopts this tone of cool, utter detachment that sucks the danger right out of the pageand replaces it with meh; it’s like having an out-of-story experience, floating along above it without being part of it. Strike two, and it’s a big strike.
Collins’s writing style is as utilitarian as ever, though the support characters – notably Boggs, Finnick and Plutarch – are fuller than they’ve been in previous books. Katniss, as well as being a self-pitying little thing, is not a subtle heroine – she rarely shows when she can tell, and some of the words Collins puts in her head are just weird. (The most notable offence: in the early chapters, Katniss tells us District 13 has nutrition down to a science; hardly surprising, given that nutrition is, in fact, a science.)
And seriously, authors: lay off the here’s-what-happened-years-later-when-they-all-had-kids epilogues. It didn’t work in Deathly Hallows, and it doesn’t work in Mockingjay. I do not care about Katniss and Peeta’s kids, for reals.