Sunday, February 5, 2012

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

Warning! This review contains spoilers from the very end of The Hunger Games trilogy! For a spoiler-free introduction to the trilogy, see my review of The Hunger Games.

Having now finished the series, I am happy to report that The Hunger Games maintains its pace of drama and excitement through to the very end. In fact, the climax is probably even more exciting than Katniss' first foray into The Hunger Games, and the conclusion seems to hint at the story's underlying conscience. The writing in these books is so good in a way that you don't often come across - in that it is both highly entertaining, and also very intelligent and insightful, probing the nature of the human condition and asking some very difficult questions.

Like the age old question of what's fair in love and war, what sort of atrocities can be justified, and where you cross the line between self-defense and becoming like the enemy that oppresses you. But there is no easy answer. Gale's anger sometimes feels righteous, then seems to cross the line. Katniss makes some stupid decisions that put her at risk, yet you welcome her moral compass. Ultimately it's clear that war is a terrible, terrible thing, but what isn't clear is whether we can ever truly escape it.

But one of the most disturbing revelations, for me, regards the nature of entertainment. Lines are blurred in Mockingjay, when the war itself becomes a sort of Hunger Games. The propos (propaganda spots) that the rebels create have a clear tactical purpose, yet their effectiveness relies on their entertainment value. And it's instantly discovered by those behind the scenes that staged emotions aren't as exciting as the real thing. So Katniss is put in real danger in order to get good footage. And then later, in the warring streets of the Capitol, it's almost as if the rebels are in the position of the Gamemakers (and I'm sure it's no coincidence with Plutarch being around), realizing that in order to stir up some enthusiasm with their propos, some blood's going to have to be shed. It's chilling, really.

And at the end, in the epilogue, Katniss makes her statement on the games, and I want so badly to believe in the righteousness of that statement, but then I can't help realizing that I've been as bad as the smarmy Capitol residents, calling out for blood, all in the name of good entertainment. After all, The Hunger Games would not be nearly as entertaining if not for the horrors it depicts. Prim's death was the one thing I almost couldn't stand. Almost. It destroyed me, and I was really angry that it happened. But afterward, you still have to admit that it makes the story that much more intense. That it will stick with you for that reason, because it wasn't afraid to pull any punches.

But if there's one consolation, it's that in the real world, I think staged entertainment is just as effective as the real thing. More so, probably. Because in a book, when a character you love dies, it's very sad. But it's still just a character. You can move on. It's like what happens in real life, but on a much smaller scale, because you only knew her for those several weeks you were reading the book, and only in those moments. She's not someone you've known all your (or her) life, and you only know of her what the author has given you. In real life, when people die (especially violently), the horror and the sadness greatly outweighs whatever sick entertainment (if any, really) one could glean from it.

And so I can at least rest assured in the knowledge that though I enjoy reading The Hunger Games (and can't wait for the movies!), it doesn't make me like the Capitol in the story. However, the lingering question that does remain, is the question of war. War still rages on in the real world, and we don't seem to be any closer to ending it forever. Despite the clarity of its horrors - at least to me - on it goes. Just as Plutarch alludes to. I don't know how to solve that one.


  1. How'd you feel about that ending, eh? It depressed the hell out of me but I couldn't love it any more. I think they took the high road and gave us an ending that wasn't very happy but was extremely powerful and contextually deeply satisfying. I haven't seen a story with an ending like that since the old days with shows like Berserk and Eva!

    I think it's more painful than your basic Shakespearean "everyone dies" tragedy, because that you can right off, distance yourself from it. Here Katniss is left alone to wallow in her hell, the only person she ever loved having been killed, and the support network she thought was on her side evaporated into thin air. The only creature in the world she relates to at this point, is the vile cat she despised, the thing she dreamt of murdering throughout the book. A brilliant twist.

    The whole of it is loneliness. Katniss lost the only person she truly loved. Her mother is occupied by other things, and they've never been close ever since the death of her husband/their father. Gale is gone to her, a ruthless killer whose written her out of his life, committed unforgivable deeds. Peeta is sort of there... but after what they did to him, I'll never feel like he's the real Peeta. Someday he'll probably get caught in a nightmare, retrigger lost thoughts, see Katniss lying beside him, and slit her throat. Even Haymitch is gone, occupied no doubt by his own demons. The vast support network she commanded during the war simply evaporated and moved on with their lives. Katniss becomes immobile, succumbing to the same fate that made her hate her mother. The irony is thick as a wall. The mood is so articulate... this sort of hazy existence. Pure melancholy.

    I was sad to see Madge go, too. She's a minor character but I always chose to relate to her the most. Not so polarized as the rest, she's just a simple character, almost like Tom Bombadil. Madgniss was pretty much the only relationship I dug in the series, other than AU future Rueniss.

    I agree the sorrow of the finale is intended to, to some degree, atone for the sins of what preceded it. To not let us off the hook for cheering on the bloodshed. And I suspect that after what they did to Peeta, he'll never be the same. Someday his night terrors will jostle the conditioning out of its slumber, only slightly. And in that slight moment he will see Katniss lying next to him, and strangle her dead. Then awake from hypnosis and probably kill himself. Dark, much? Hey, I didn't write the series...

    I'm convinced the primary political commentary of the series is against the disconnect between citizens and what a nation does on their behalf. The plight of the districts mirrors the plight of the third world. The Capitol citizens socially barf in order to have multiple meals while countless children die of starvation. Even good human beings like Cinna can stand right there and participate in the Hunger Games because there's a disconnect between their "small" part and what they perceive as the way of the world, unstoppable. But participating in murder and abuse is participating in murder and abuse, no matter if you do it from a cushy couch or from a trench. Even Katniss, who fought for good and righteousness and stood up against the oppressors even in her own camp, isn't free from the murder she commits, and she is condemned for it (spiritually if not also literaly). I think the story was meant to humanize the struggle of what seem to us like distant, inconceivable souls. But of course it had a whole plethora of different points and commentaries, not to mention enough nuance to take a vast plethora of different meanings from each.

  2. Actually, I felt that Peeta was finally redeemed in my eyes, by the end. I liked Gale, and I was sorry to see him step out of Katniss' life, considering how intuitively connected they were, but I can't say that I'm too disappointed with the way that turned out, given everything that happened.

    I think I read on the sleeve, in the little blurb about the author - or maybe it was in her acknowledgements - that she gave special thanks to her father for educating her about "war and peace" and that gave me the feeling that main point of this book, apart from being entertaining, was to demonstrate what war does to people, and just how horrible it is. The ending definitely fits in that context, and it justifies what happened to Prim, because out of the whole series, she was the one person that should have lived. But war's not fair or merciful, you know?