Catching Fire, misdirection, and monkey torture

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.

Layers

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.

Mis­di­rec­tion

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.

_____________________

Goodreads Review

Catching Fire (The Hunger Games, #2)Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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.

View all my reviews


About J. E. Hunt

J. E. Hunt is a writer based in Washington DC, and the author of The Whispering Walls, its pending sequel, and several short stories. Please take a minute to check out his work.

Leave a Reply