To be honest, the fact that I enjoyed this book took me a little by surprise. My issues with The Hunger Games (wooden characters who fail to develop, lack of humour, wearing its derivation from Running Man and Battle Royale on its sleeve, a kind of tick box approach to writing the perfect YA bestseller etc etc) all remain but somehow, the novel works.
Possibly the big difference in Catching Fire is Haymitch, by some distance the most complex, fully realised character in a book otherwise singularly lacking in characters with a smidgeon of sophistication in their inner conflicts. Haymitch is a drunk, a bad drunk. He’s violent, sneering, untrustworthy, untruthful, tactless…and yet, you feel for him. His motivations are tricky and hard to pin down. He’s real, in a way that (before you fill me full of arrows, Hunger Games fans, remember how we’re all different and its a book, not a crusade) Katnis isn’t. Katnis hates the world, except for pretty dresses. Weirdly, she’s a complete girl when it comes to a nice frock*. She also hates Peeta. No, hang on, she loves him. No, she hates him. Etc.
And yet, I’ve given this book four stars on Good Reads. Why?
Because it motors. It reiterates the basic premise of the first novel and then takes it in a seriously meta direction. There’s more Haymitch. There’s a genuine monster in the form of the revolting President Snow. It entertained me and I wanted to know what happened next. And by the end, I even cared a little bit about the profoundly irritating Catnip. Don’t tell anyone, but I’m actually looking forward to starting Mockingjay.
*Someone, somewhere must have written a dissertation on the number of ways Katnis has set back the cause of female characters in thrillers with real agency. Who’s rescued her from every single scrape she’s got into so far? A big strong man.