Saturday, August 31, 2013

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

Title: Mockingjay
Author: Suzanne Collins
Publisher: Scholastic
Rating: Worthy!

Note that there's an excellent trivia resource on the Hunger Games wiki.

Once again Collins takes the same story as she used in The Hunger Games and which she respun as Catching Fire, and she twists it once more into Mockingjay. Even so, it’s different and just as engrossing. That takes some skill. As Katniss confirms when she gives voice to the sentiment, this is the 76th Hunger Games, and the arena this time is all of Panem, but in particular it’s the capital.

Mockingjay, clearly a direct reference to Katniss after her interview with Caesar Flickinger in Catching Fire (itself clearly a direct reference to that same incident) begins in ashes - the ashes of District 12, bombed and burned by the Capital in reprisal for Katniss's continuing rebellion. Katniss insists, against the wishes of the leaders of District 13 where she now resides with her family, upon visiting the district to punish herself over the hundreds and hundreds who died there because of her. Mockingjay's chapter 18 seems clearly to have been the underlying influence on the Divergent novel's use of chemicals to stimulate fear.

I can see how President Snow (who had a rose left behind for Katniss in the only part of 12 which was not bombed) would want to punish, but if the Capital is so dependent upon coal, then it makes absolutely no sense to completely and irreversibly destroy the coal district and those who produce this resource. This district was not rebelling. It was incapable of doing so, yet Snow had it destroyed and along with it the miners and along with that all coal production. Collins presents this as a direct punishment to Katniss, but Collins fails to address this particular issue. This vindictive destruction becomes even more incomprehensible in light of what ensues, and I have to wonder two things: is President Snow completely deranged, and was the capital was lying about its coal dependence? Were they merely making the miners go through the motions, just working pointlessly for the sake of it? If they were not, then how are they replacing that evidently-needed coal?

The only thing Katniss recovers from District 12 (Diss 12 now?!) are a few personal effects from her victors' home, including Buttercup, Prim's cat, before she has to return to Diss 13 and to her growing nightmares, the largest of which is knowing that Peeta is a prisoner of President Snow, but this issue is resolved very speedily - another remarkable example of how well Collins has constructed this trilogy. Once Katniss is back in the strictly disciplined and organized Diss 13, it seems in many ways a microcosm of everything which was wrong with the previous regimen, what with strict rules, and having your daily schedule tattooed on your wrist each morning to be washed off only at night.

Let me say a quick word about Collins's use of 'Capitol' to describe the capital of Panem, because I found it unnecessarily confusing, an I have to wonder if Collins herself understands the difference between capital and capitol, since both words derive from the same Latin root, meaning 'head'. I think capitol is a very American word. I don't hear any nation use this outside of the Americas. Capitol refers strictly to a building where the state legislature meets, and perhaps the judicial branch, too (so much for separation!). It doesn't mean the same thing as 'capital', which is the principle city of a nation, the one which is typically the seat government for that nation. In order not to perpetuate the potential confusion and misinformation Collins may have launched by this lax choice of words, I intend to use 'capital' to refer to the principle city of Panem, and only use 'Capitol' when I need to, or when I'm quoting directly from her novels. But I don't want to make this a capital offense, or derive any capital from it, okay? Capital!

Katniss is shocked when called to witness a capital broadcast which features Peeta - a very healthy and well-looking Peeta, quite contrary to the one she saw in her nightmares, one who was bloody and punished. Peeta calls for a cease-fire, claiming that both he and Katniss were unwitting victims of rebel manipulation in the 75th games. This is supposed to affect Katniss, turning her into putty in their hands, but it has the opposite effect. Before, she had resisted becoming a symbol of the resistance - becoming the Mockingjay - but after seeing this broadcast, she now resolves to be precisely what Diss 13 has asked her to be - the symbolic leader of the resistance. She reasons that any other action will plunge them back into the horrific subjugation which has haunted everyone's life through 75 years and infinite tears.

Prior to making this decision, Katniss had fled the broadcast and hidden in one of several locations where she has gone to ground during those times when she is unable to deal with her misery and stress. Gale finds her there and they sit and talk. He and she have begun to resume their previous relationship: close friends, each someone to whom the other can talk about anything. This is where Katniss makes her decision, but the most important thing either of them says doesn't come from Katniss's mouth but from Gale's: "If I could hit a button and kill every living soul working for the Capitol, I would do it. Without hesitation."

The importance of what Gale says here in terms of defining the inevitable result of the star-cross'd triangle which is ongoing between Gale, Katniss and Peeta cannot be over-stressed. Those few words circumscribe what must become of the three of them. Again Collins has done this masterfully: she slips this understandable assertion of Gale's so sweetly into his outburst, ostensibly innocuous, but portending completely how this story must play out from here onwards. Beautifully done!

Collins continues to please the further we progress into this story. Fulvia Cardew, one of the refugees from the Capital wants to get Katniss all dolled-up in dramatic make-up with fake injuries and a knightly outfit that looks like it came right out of a manga version of the story of Jeanne d'Arc. This doesn't work for Katniss, but it's Haymitch who calls "Bullshit!" on it and eventually they cave and allow her to be herself. She's flown to Diss 8 to visit a hospital, but what her minders don't know is that the capital is about to bomb the hospital. Katniss fights back with her super bow (a tur-bow?!) - which is straight out of Hawkeye's weaponry in The Avengers - and brings down some Capital ships (lol!). Now they have all the "propo" (propaganda) they want and they derive a bunch of video from this one incident, of Katniss being heroic and defiant.

It's right after these start going out that Katniss learns what the Capital has truly done to Peeta. She sees another of their propos and Peeta looks sleepless and in pain. They have clearly been torturing him. Clearly the initial video was taken some time before to trick Katniss into thinking he was being well taken care off. When she didn't swallow that, they hit her with the truth - as they want her to see it - and this video has exactly the effect that the Capital has sought all along: it makes Katniss fall apart. She saw the video with Finnick, who advised her not to mention it to anyone lest they think she will lose it if she hears of Peeta's torture. But she notices that no one mentions it to her, either, not even Gale, who she thought she could trust.

Here's where we find another choice sentence from Collins. The leader of Diss 13 is Alma Coin, who is hardly better than President Snow, and Katniss is giving Gale a hard time for not telling her about the Peeta video. She yells at him: "They were right. It did. But not quite as sick as you lying to me for coin." I love that sentence (even though it is grammatically a horror story) because of the double-entendre. Is he lying to her for Coin (Alma Coin, the president of Diss 23) or is he lying to her for coin (because he's bought into / in the pay of the rebel propaganda? You cannot beat a good double meaning like that. It's in the best tradition of George Orwell's 1984. Whether Collins intended it that way is another matter!

Well, I have to say that Collins, notwithstanding her prowess with selling us this trilogy, is yet another writer who doesn't understand the difference between 'titled' and 'entitled'. Having said that, of course, there is the fact that language is not words in a dictionary, but what's in use every day in the work places, and play places, amongst the military and the civilians, in classrooms and in nightclubs, and it's changing all the time.

I think this is yet another example of words becoming inextricably entangled. We saw it with 'inflammable' and 'flammable'. We saw it with the rise of 'irregardless', and we're seeing it now as more and more writers confuse 'titled' and 'entitled', and stanch and staunch. It's the same contradictory language that allows us to describe a person we really like by describing them as both hot and cool. It's the same sick language which allows us to reassure someone by telling them we're fine, but doesn't allow us to tell them we're not fine by describing ourselves as coarse! It's the same paradoxical language that allows us to describe a person as phat and not be even remotely insulting. And yeah, it's the same obscure language that allows us to insult, but not to sult, or even to outsult! O-kay serif serrated....

The next time Peeta broadcasts, it's especially disturbing for Katniss, but not as disturbing for Diss 13 when Peeta warns everyone that a bombing raid is not immanent, but imminent. The entire population, which is living underground anyway, descends to the very bottom level of their subterranean city, which has long been prepared for such a raid. The raid continues for three days, but no one is killed or harmed thanks to Peeta. After this, the powers that be in Diss 13 decide to go rescue Peeta, because without him, Katniss is useless. Some hero, huh? So the raid goes ahead, and as a distraction, Katniss finally pulls herself together long enough to record a brief "I'm alive" kind of message. The real hero this time is Finnick, and why they waited so ridiculously long to employ him is a mystery, because what he has is dynamite.

During his relationship with various people in the Capital, he has sucked up secret after secret about the people there, and now he unveils every last one of them, in particular ones he knows about Snow. Given that not one of these is described in the novel, they're going to have to invent a speech for him when Mockingjay is turned into a movie. These revelations are transmitted right at the time the raid is suppose dot go down in the capital as a distraction, and then there is a horrible wait until Finnick and Katniss get news: Peeta is safe. Gale, who went with the raid, is safe. Annie, Finnick's girlfriend who was held hostage by Snow just like Peeta was (Peeta, honestly?) is safe, and so is Johanna, who, being the only captive who actually knew anything about the rebels' plans, was tortured extensively.

Now, freed from all harm that Snow can conjure up, Katniss needs to deliver as the Mockingjay. Unfortunately, since Peeta has been reprogrammed (using tracker-jacker venom) to hate Katniss, his first response uppon meeting her is to strangle her! So, Mockingjay on hold for few days, Katniss's hatred of Snow ratcheted up another couple of notches (not to be confused with nachos - ratcheting up a few nachos would be a bit weird).

In the first Hunger games in which she took part, Katniss had no choice in going, and she was largely on her own. In the next one, she was part of a team, but she neither knew nor trusted her allies for the most part. In Hunger Games 3.0, as she enters the arena that the capital has now become, she is going in, for the first time, voluntarily; she does know her allies, and she does trust them (all except for Peeta, which is a complete one-eighty from before). This time the price is immensely high because she knows they’re following her, and they're on her side, and she knows they're paying for this with their lives, and unlike in the previous games where most of the deaths took place at least somewhat remotely from her, in this 'games', the deaths are up close and personal, and Snow makes it obvious from the start that he's targeting her directly and very vindictively.

I know that a lot of people gripe about this love triangle between Katniss, and Peeta and Gale, but to me there never was a love triangle, there only ever was Katniss and Peeta. Gale was a non-starter. As I pointed out in my review of The Hunger Games, it was first brought home to me how completely out of the question Gale was by his selfish rejection of joining Katniss in the games. He could have volunteered immediately after she did, but he left her hanging. Katniss had no choice. Both Gale and Peeta did have a choice and both of them chose to reject her. However, once Peeta found himself selected, he directed his every action into saving Katniss. So although he had initially ruled himself out of the running by his failure to volunteer to join her, once he learned that had no choice, he immediately resolved to be Katniss's man all the way, and he never wavered from that resolve.

It took the evil of President Snow to derail Peeta's devotion, but he came back from that, and although he initially failed by not volunteering, Peeta earned the right to be by Katniss's side by his subsequent actions. Gale did not; quite the contrary, in fact. It was Gale who killed the one person Katniss truly did love unreservedly and without question or doubt: Prim. There would never be any coming back from that, but Gale did it anyway in full knowledge of how brutally it would damage Katniss. He did this precisely because he didn’t care about Katniss - or more accurately, because he cared far more about selfish things than ever he cared for her. So the ending for me was absolutely right given everything which preceded it.