What struck me most about Catching Fire was the amount of thought that must have gone into it — and in particular, the diabolical creativity that built such a world of horror for the protagonists. This is, of course, how great fiction is made. While reading the book, I came across this quote on another blog:
The writer is both a sadist and a masochist. We create people we love, and then we torture them. The more we love them, and the more cleverly we torture them along the lines of their greatest vulnerability and fear, the better the story. ‘Janet Fitch
I think that was actually said best, years ago, in the advice of the legendary Dr. Martin Crank. I couldn’t get this video out of my head for much of the book, because it’s exactly what’s happening.
Collins is clearly an expert at torturing characters, but she does some interesting things with the concept of audience sympathy. In my post on The Hunger Games, I alluded to the fact that there are multiple audiences in the book, and that part of its strength is that our judgments about the viewers in the Capital can only reflect on our own enjoyment of the book.
This book pushes the dynamic even further, as we see certain events and forces work upon the cruel Capital audience, manipulating them into more humane, open-eyed responses. The parallels are even more blatant, but no line is crossed. We get closer and closer to reading our own experience, but we remain distanced at the same time via our close association with the protagonists, and all the while, Collins — the voice and conscience of Katniss, is also the quiet voice of President Snow. She is the foreign tribute who throws the spear — the ultimate Gamemaker behind it all.
This, I suppose, is the heart of engaging fiction and the suspension of disbelief. But it’s still a wonder to read a book with one eye peeking behind the curtain and watching the amazing mechanics of it all.
Without going into spoilers, (and really, if you’re concerned with that, you shouldn’t be reading this) I’ll say that there are three huge, gravid moments that I thought were brilliant. They are the one action that shocked the Gamemakers, and the two moments shortly after, during the interviews.
Much earlier in the book, I had guessed the last plot point that would emerge in the interviews, but I suspect it was what Collins wanted, because I had since dismissed and forgotten it. Misdirection, which she delivers through the naïvety of Katniss, is an important part of mysteries and revelations. I learned how this works years ago while watching the first season of 24. (24 spoiler coming)
The writers made a point to challenge Nina’s loyalty early in the show, and it had the effect of dismissing her as a threat. She was tested and deemed innocent. This is why the big reveal at the end worked so well. We had been fooled. Collins is terrific at this.
This series is one book away from achieving His Dark Materials and Harry Potter status on my bookshelf. I continue to be impressed by the author’s skillful manipulation of emotion, attention to themes, creativity, and the way she incorporates measured, patient story construction into such a fast pace narrative. I was kept off guard and surprised throughout the book, and I’m sad that there is only one more to go. Highly recommended.