Author Suzanne Collins mentions that the idea for THE HUNGER GAMES came from channel surfing between reality TV games and the Iraq war. While the reality game show element is really obvious, it seems to me that this whole series is a metaphor for the wars of the recent decade, with each volume of the trilogy serving as a metaphor of those hellish places. No wonder Katniss behaves so badly and in such extreme and violent ways. No wonder this book is so dark. No-one is ever quite the same again. And that is where the power of this work lies, in it’s linking of dystopian fantasy with unpleasant realities of the present day.
This is a strong work that doesn’t sag and will keep you glued to the page. What makes it so outstanding is the way the trilogy ends. Ms. Collins provides a satisfying ending that ties up a lot of loose threads and make the reader feel that there was no other way this story could have ended. It is not a happy-ever-after ending, which would not have been appropriate for such a dark story. But it is the kind of ending that throws everything into relief and makes you realize what the emotional heart of the story is.
For those of you who haven’t yet read or viewed HUNGER GAMES, you might want to stop reading at this point, as what I have to say contains spoilers.
What the ending meant for me was that the emotional heart of this story is with Katniss’ relationship with her sister. Which is surprising, as this is a book for teens. Authors who write for this audience are almost obliged to have the romance-between-good-looking members-of-the-opposite-sex-which-involves-love-triangle, and I must say I found this aspect of the trilogy the least interesting. Mainly because Katniss (not surprisingly) is so unsure of where she is, being spoiled for choice. But the suspense just stretches out and out and out, and I felt the work would have been stronger without so much emphasis on the romance element.
However, the ending suggests that we are being encouraged to look at the wrong relationship. Because the person whom Katniss really and truly loves is her sister. And when Prim dies, we feel Katniss’ terrible pain. Especially as she had to see it happen. I thought the scene with Prim’s cat was just wrenching, and it is a mark of the quality of this work that it is hard for me to get those scenes out of my head. Five stars.
Philippa Gregory has done it again, found a compelling, forgotten woman, in the shape of Margaret, Countess of Salisbury, and woven a whole tale around this character.
Margaret of Salisbury had an impeccable pedigree. She was the elder child of George, Duke of Clarence, brother to both Edward IV and Richard the III. Her mother was Isabel Neville, daughter and co-heiress with her sister Anne, of Warwick the Kingmaker. Margaret was comfortable at court and knew most of its players. She was a cousin to Queen Elizabeth of York, wife to Henry VII and mother of Henry VIII. She became close friends with Henry VIII’s first wife Catherine of Aragon. So she is an excellent choice for the ending of Gregory’s series on the Cousin’s War (aka The Wars of the Roses).
Gregory is known for her unorthodox takes on history, and this novel is no exception. She found an eerie corallary between the actions of some of the characters in her previous novels (LADY OF THE RIVERS and THE WHITE QUEEN ) and modern-day science. I will let her explain it to you in the following, taken from her Author’s Note:
There has been much work on the loss of Henry VIII’s babies. Current…research from Catrina Banks Whitley and Kyra Kramer suggests that Henry may have had the rare Kell positive blood type, which can cause miscarriages, stillbirths, and infant deaths when the mother has the more common Kell negative blood type. Whitley and Kramer also suggest that Henry’s later symptoms of paranoia and anger may have been caused by McLeod syndrome—a disease found only in Kell positive individuals. McLeod syndrome usually develops when sufferers are aged around forty and cause physical degeneration and personality changes resulting in paranoia, depression and irrational behavior.
…Whitley and Kramer trace Kell syndrome back to Jacquetta, Duchess of Bedford, the suspected witch and mother of Elizabeth Woodville. Sometimes, uncannily, fiction creates a metaphor for an historical truth: in a fictional scene in the novel, Elizabeth, together with her daughter Elizabeth of York, curse the murderer of her sons, swearing that they shall lose their son and their grandsons, while in real life her genes—unknown and undetectable at the time—entered the Tudor line through her daughter and may have caused the deaths of four Tudor babies to Katherine of Aragon and three to Anne Boleyn. (582)
Reading this gave me the shivers. Five stars.
A TRACE OF SMOKE is set in Berlin in 1931 and is the story of how a (fictional) lady journalist named Hannah Vogel defies Hitler’s best friend Ernst Roehm.
What is so wonderful about this novel are the many details of life in 1930s Berlin, like this one of a seedy nightclub called the “El Dorado”:
A dozen round tables ringed the oak dance floor. Each was set in a shallow alcove painted with a stylized scene from a Chinese opium den. Between each table hung a red curtain or a large tarnished brass gong. Every so often someone rang a got with a bottle of Champagne, and the band stopped playing and started a different song.
Despite this wonderful writing, I kept bumping into the mystery of exactly why author Rebecca Cantrell had chosen to set this story in 1931, at a time when the Nazis had LESS than 20% of the popular vote, then proceeded to fill her novel with details of Nazi menace which implied that the Nazis held Berlin in a stranglehold. The author goes so far as to claim (in her Author Note) that Berlin was LOST to the Nazis in 1931!
But none of this makes sense. Hitler did NOT become Chancellor until 30 January 1933, and so I would say that it was in 1933 that Berlin was lost to the Nazis.
In 1931, by contrast, the Nazis had to continue to fight rumors that they were pagans and thugs because they needed the Catholic vote. In 1931, they had to do everything in their power to make themselves appear civilized. The Nazi menace that suffuses this novel is simply anachronistic.
Most readers are probably not going to mind this, but as someone who has done a lot of research in this area myself, I just couldn’t understand how an author who can do so much detailed research on brands of stockings and cigarettes to illuminate the daily life of Berliners could make such an elementary mistake. Three stars.
So sorry you haven’t heard from me recently. For those of you who don’t know, I took off a couple of years to do an MFA in Creative Writing at Lesley University’s low-residency program. (Lesley is in Cambridge, MA). In any event, I’m nearly at the end of my time there, but this last (fourth) semester has been particularly grueling. Hence, no posts.
Now that I’ve got my second submission in, I have a window of time to put up some new reviews of books that I met in the Fall. I hope you enjoy reading them.
If all goes according to plan, I hope to graduate this June. Please keep your fingers crossed!