Sunday, 19 August 2012

Mockingjay; oh my

There's a scene in the otherwise not terribly good The Fugitive where veteran scene-stealer Tommy Lee Jones surveys some or other chaos and says "My, my, my, my, what a mess." I felt like that as I came to the end of Mockingjay, with which Suzanne Collins, bless her, tries to wrap up a trilogy which I can only assume she never planned. 

As with the other two books, I'm impressed by what Collins doesn't give in to. She doesn't go for a neat ending, she doesn't resolve the emotional tangles with heroic sacrifices and she's absolutely ruthless about the expendability of the supporting cast. And her characters are realistically frail; every time something gets all explodey, the survivors wake up in hospital, rather than bouncing back into action.These are brave choices, but they don't get her off the hook over things which go wrong. 

What goes wrong? Well, there's the lack of a clear master plot line. The first book works quite well because it's a horribly claustrophobic piece that motors along quickly enough that you overlook the lack of plausibility to the overarching idea. The second book struggled to find a way to reimpose that claustrophobia and failed, largely because it blew its pacing in the middle and then looked like it was trying to get the sequence's mojo back by hastily scrabbling its way back into the arena where everything had been nice and simple. The third book is kind of like the second book all over again, but peters out messily instead of giving a sense of resolution. Not having a neat ending is one thing; making a mess out of describing the mess is another thing entirely.

Where it all goes wrong for me is the way that Collins keeps crabbing back to the things which worked in the first book; the over-the-top spitefulness of the killing machines in the arena and the creepy moral unease that comes from knowing that the only way you're going to live is if everyone else dies. The efforts to get back to that successful formula get ever more strained, and it's never a good sign when the reader, a third of the way from the ending of the book, is muttering under his breath "Oh dear, here we go again." 

Oddly enough, I suspect that these books are going to be perfectly successful movies; the way they've been put together will probably work better in film terms than they do on the printed page. But having found my way to the end of the books, I'm kind of wishing I'd left well enough alone.

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