Less would have been more.
Katniss has been evacuated to District 13 after her home district, 12, has been annihilated by the Capital's fire bombers. Her role is to lead the revolution that is now engulfing almost all the districts. Peeta, her alleged husband, is being tortured in the Capitol; he appears on television asking for a ceasefire; he seems to have sold out to President Snow.
So this is war and Katniss is training to be a soldier with her friend Gale. Bit not just any soldier. She is the face of the rebellion and, in her Mockingjay clothes, she is regularly televised as she visits hospitals and fights.
Of course this is where loose ends get tied up. The Roman basis for the dystopia is made explicit when it is revealed that the country's name, Panem, derives from panem et circenses, the Latin for 'bread and circuses', which some cynical Roman suggested was the way to keep a populace subdued. Hence, the Hunger Games.
From time to time she thinks about the moral implications of what she is doing. In the middle of the book there is a moment when she and her rebels are attacking District Two where the Capitol's military complex is concealed within a mountain and they decide to cause avalanches to block all exits and entrances except for one and then be ready to kill the people when they flee. This is hard for a miner's child to do. So she tries to stop the rebels shooting the refugees but finds herself looking down a gun barrel. He asks her to give him one reason why he shouldn't shoot her and she tells him that she can't. She asks him to shoot; she tells him she is done with killing the Capitol's slaves.
"I'm not their slave," the man mutters.
"I am," I say. "That's why I killed Cato ... and he killed Thresh ... and he killed Clove ... and she tried to kill me. It just goes around and around, and who wins? Not us. Not the districts. Always the Capitol. But I'm tired of being a piece in their Games."
And that should be the turning point, the point where the plot reverses, the crisis, the perepiteia. We've had hatred and killing; the Peacekeepers kill the rebels and the rebels kills the Peacekeepers and it goes on and on in an endless cycle of violence and this is the point where the protagonist, Katniss, recognises that this is wrong and finds a new way to resolve all the differences. And there will setbacks along that road and we won't know if she will succeed until the very end but that is what should happen. That is what stories do. But this one doesn't.
It sounds like I am being pious. I don't believe that a story must have a moral point. Most stories do. In comedies good triumphs in the end, in tragedies evil is punished in the end. Even in Romeo and Juliet, where the title characters are killed, the lovers do after all end up together (but dead) and the Montagues and Capulets are reconciled, so it has a sort of happy ending. This is how stories work.
Modern fiction has allowed the author to ditch the conventions. I would never want to wind the clock back and say that an author cannot. But the story form has a psychological power, or it caters to a psychological need, that means that breaking out of the form must be done carefully. It is like free verse. Rhyme and scansion allow many people to create enjoyable poetry but it is really difficult to write good poems if there are no rules to follow.
Throughout the book, as throughout the last two books, Katniss faces moral dilemmas. She spots them and debates them. Who is telling her the truth? Is she being manipulated by the rebels? Why is is OK to kill in some circumstances and not others? She has nightmares about the terrible things she has done. She feels guilty about Peeta, rescued but a psychological wreck. She realises that the war is brutalising Gale. She even questions whether it is right for her to jeopardise other people's lives in her monomaniacal pursuit of her mission to kill the President of the Capitol. But she keeps right on. She kills and watches people die.
And in the end, we too are brutalised. The author seems to have continued the series only so that she can dream up ever more ghoulish ways to kills off her major characters. It is a bloodbath. And I stopped caring.
Perhaps that was the point. Perhaps I was supposed to end up like Katniss, a cold hearted, unfeeling killer. Unfortunately, I stopped caring about Katniss too. Perhaps that was the point, to show she wouldn't even care for herself. But I don't think it made good fiction.
It was just a very violent video game.
There is, of course, a twist in the end, but I had become numb by then.
April 2014; 436 pages
Read my reviews of the far better Hunger Games 1 and Catching Fire (HG2).
- Having reviewed over 1200 books on this blog, I have now written two myself. Motherdarling is a story about a search for a missing Will which reveals long-hidden family secrets. The Kids of God is a thriller set in a dystopia ruled by fascist paramilitaries. Both are available as paperbacks and on Kindle through Amazon. I live in Canterbury, England. I lived for more than thirty years in Bedford. Having retired from teaching; I became a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Liminality. I achieved my PhD in 2019. I am now properly retired. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. Follow me on twitter: @daja57