Friday, December 20, 2013

Review: Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

I chose to read "Catching Fire" after seeing the movie. I had tried to before, but had never got past the first few chapters. 
Surprisingly enough, I liked the movie better than the book. Which is one of the things I'd never thought I'd say.
It's not that "Catching Fire" is bad, per se: it's fast-paced and quite well-written. I read it in a day, simply because after the admittedly slow start, I couldn't tear myself away. 
And yet, I didn't like it all that much. Why?
The cryptic short answer is: "Catching Fire" relies too heavily on this message.
Let me explain: Collins wants her reader to feel rage for the ways of the Capitol and in doing so, make them reflect on in which ways it's similar to how we live. 
Got it. Great message. Just one problem: if Collins simply wanted to write a critique of our society, she should have written an essay about it. What she did was write a novel to get her point across. And in a novel, the message always, always comes in second to the plot. There's no way around it. The reader won't care enough to absorb the message if they don't care about the characters. And in this novel, the characters are cardboard figures the reader cares nothing about.
I can think of one single emotional moment in the whole books that gave characters other than Katniss the possibility to become relatable. One. 
It isn't terrible if a bunch of faceless, emotionless beings that don't even exist and, thus that I have no inclination to care about, die of starvation, or in a war, or if they suffer under the rule of a despotic government. They aren't real people, so it's not a tragedy. The key is that they have to seem real. I have to find out what makes them tick, I need to see them happy, I need to feel their despair  Then I'll care, then I'll feel enraged. And not a moment sooner.  
And I didn't care in "Catching Fire". At all. The movie was a lot better in this angle; I was constantly fighting back tears through scenes that were glossed over in the book: the reaping, the interviews... The novel never takes the time to breathe and show most of the moments that are emotionally challenging for the characters. The moments that are designed to make me care. 
I'll still give this books three stars, for the writing and for the pacing, but it barely deserves them.


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