Books I read in May 2021

Ariadne by Jennifer Saint (physical book, new read)

‘Ariadne, Princess of Crete, grows up greeting the dawn from her beautiful dancing floor and listening to her nursemaid’s stories of gods and heroes. But beneath her golden palace echo the ever-present hoofbeats of her brother, the Minotaur, a monster who demands blood sacrifice. When Theseus, Prince of Athens, arrives to vanquish the beast, Ariadne sees in his green eyes not a threat but an escape. Defying the gods, betraying her family and country, and risking everything for love, Ariadne helps Theseus kill the Minotaur. But will Ariadne’s decision ensure her happy ending? And what of Phaedra, the beloved younger sister she leaves behind?’ (Ariadne synopsis)

Firstly, both cover versions of this book are so beautiful! This book has very willingly spiralled me back into a Greek mythology retelling binge. I enjoyed this book and loved getting to learn more about Ariadne as there are still so many stories, I’m not very familiar with (I somehow always got mixed up with Medea and Ariadne, so I finally know the very different differences haha). Unfortunately, I didn’t love this book. Madeline Miller’s retellings were the first myth retellings I read and I love them so incredibly much that I end up comparing all others to them. Whilst Ariadne is good, I didn’t feel very strongly towards it. Sometimes I feel like myth retellings can feel slightly stretched or ‘bitty’ since they are coming out of such short original material and I did feel this way towards Ariadne. That’s not to say I wouldn’t recommend it, if you’re able to read myths without comparing each to your favourite books I think you’d love it! 😊  Also, this book discusses constellations often, I’m interested to learn more about constellations in relation to myths, please let me know of any good books or websites!

After Dark by Haruki Murakami (physical book, new read)

‘The midnight hour approaches in an almost-empty diner. Mari sips her coffee and reads a book, but soon her solitude is disturbed: a girl has been beaten up at the Alphaville hotel, and needs Mari’s help. Meanwhile Mari’s beautiful sister Eri lies in a deep, heavy sleep that is ‘too perfect, too pure’ to be normal; it has lasted for two months. But tonight as the digital clock displays 00:00, a hint of life flickers across the television screen in her room, even though it’s plug has been pulled out.’ (After Dark synopsis)

I don’t even know what to say about Murakami anymore, he’s slightly insane and full of genius. I think this would be such a good book of his to start with! It’s short, with lots of his common themes and favourite tropes and a lil bit of the surreal but little enough that it’s very readable. It takes place in one night and I read it in one evening which made it so much more interesting. I feel like Murakami’s books suck me in, there is something just so interesting and otherworldly about them. I definitely recommend this if you’d like to start some of his books and want to test out whether the unique style works for you.

The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger (physical book, reread)

Clare and Henry have known each other since Clare was six and Henry was 36. They were married when Clare was 23 and Henry was 31. Impossible but true, because Henry is one of the first people diagnosed with Chrono-Displacement Disorder: periodically his genetic clock resets and he finds himself misplaced in time, pulled to moments of emotional gravity from his life, past and future. His disappearances are spontaneous, his experiences unpredictable, alternately harrowing and amusing. (The Time Traveler’s Wife synopsis)

I don’t really ‘review’ any book to be honest, but I’ve decided not to review this book at all. This is one of my forever favourite books and I’ve read it possibly 5 times now. I think writing about books, analysing them or even reading reviews has made me slightly more critical in my reading judgements- I’m not sure this is a bad thing, it lets me think more about social justice and I’m a far better judge now of books that I’ll find interesting. For this reason, I want to leave this book as a favourite without reflecting too deeply, because some of the themes and phrases have not aged well, and I am not recommending it. Instead, I’ll write about how this book makes me feel; for some reason, certain books feel so real to me and resonate with me so strongly, usually books that centre families and grief. It almost pulls at my soul, as silly as those sounds. I just feel comforted as well as paradoxically extremely emotional every time I read this book and I’m truly glad I found it- when I was 15ish I think? If you’ve read this, I’d love to know what you thought of it (also, it’s better than the film haha). 😊

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by she who must not be named (physical book, reread)

‘Harry Potter has never even heard of Hogwarts when the letters start dropping on the doormat at number four, Privet Drive. Addressed in green ink on yellowish parchment with a purple seal, they are swiftly confiscated by his grisly aunt and uncle. Then, on Harry’s eleventh birthday, a great beetle-eyed giant of a man called Rubeus Hagrid bursts in with some astonishing news: Harry Potter is a wizard, and he has a place at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. An incredible adventure is about to begin!’ (Harry Potter synopsis)

So. Here we are. These books have created a struggle for me, because I’ve always been one to separate art from the artist- usually because I’m lazy haha and sometimes because I prefer to think of books as their own worlds which I feel in a way can be a wee bit diminished by knowing too much about an author? I can’t explain this, I sound silly and unfair to the authors haha. Anyway, above I mentioned how much I love and feel comforted by my favourites like the Time Travellers Wife. Harry Potter has always been the same for me, it reminds me of my childhood and my dad and lots of brings me lots of comfort if I’m sad. For this reason, I will keep reading these books- albeit they are a bit tainted- and continue to ignore the existence of she who must not be named. I will not, however, buy any products or new books that bring money to the author.

I reread this book because my P5 class asked to read the illustrated version (which I already owned before she who must not be named became nameless), and as 99% of them dislike reading (which makes me sad), I was very eager to agree. I think these are funny, magical books which will become classics for children, and I think this can only be a good thing, as long as we are separating and educating.

I started off strong this month and then got really stressed at work and read nothing haha, but overall, it was a really good month, I didn’t dislike anything! Please let me know what you’ve been reading or what your thoughts are on these books 😊

My favourite tv programmes

Game of thrones

I started watching this programme just before season 3 came out and I just absolutely love it. I was so glad when it became so popular because it was getting hard to convince my friends to watch a programme that features incest and a child being thrown out a window in episode one hahaha. This show is so incredibly well written- it obviously went downhill after the writers ran out of GRRM’s book material, but even so I’ll forgive it it’s many flaws. The characters are so intriguing, well rounded and realistic (most of the time) and the fact that GRRM has no problem killing and torturing makes you root for the characters and watch in fear when your favourites are in danger. With the exceptions of Ramsay and Joffrey, there are no definitively ‘bad’ characters that I hate. The Starks are obviously the ‘good’ family that the audience can grow with and root for, but the Lannister’s are incredibly interesting. I don’t think I can pick favourites; I love them all. I also love the character development throughout the story, characters often lose what is essential to their makeup for example, (SPOILERS!:)

 Cersei’s constant fear of losing her children, Jaime his hand which represents his safety, pride and arrogance, Sansa her idealistic view of the world and so on. Jaime and his redemption arc (kind of ruined at the end by the writers but ah well) is a good representation of the extremely rich, well written arcs in this programme. Even the minor characters who I typically wouldn’t find interesting such as Tywin have depth to their character and an intrigue (made even better by the exceptional acting). The power dynamics and different geographical locations are incredibly interesting, and I love the politics (Littlefinger and Varys are amazing). I also love the fantasy elements and I think they are so well woven into the plot; this is a political, character driven story overall and I think that is so important. I was going to talk about a few of my favourite characters but in trying I’ve realised that I honestly love them all, it’s too hard. Most of my thanks goes to GRRM because his source material definitely makes the programme what it is, but the acting, costume design, special effects and so many things that come together make this an amazing programme. The writers made mistakes and I feel that the show would have benefitted from another season or two, but I’m happy they pitched the idea of a tv programme, or we might never have had the chance to watch this. If you were let down by the last couple of seasons, I’d recommend reading the books, they are absolutely amazing and don’t feature any of the issues within the tv show (such as the unnecessary horrific rape between Daenerys and Khal Drogo and Cersei and Jaime). The books also have time to add depth to the minor plot points and are so so intricate. I’m now going to rewatch Game of Thrones immediately.

Killing eve

This is such an unusual programme and the relationship between Sandra Oh and Jodie Comer really make it. The mystery and music are used so well to create an intense and intoxicating atmosphere that keeps you really intrigued. I think season two has been my favourite so far, but I love the different plot points and elements of focus that each season brings, as well as the ever-changing dynamics between Eve and Villanelle. The characters in this programme are amazing, I love Carolyn and Constantine, and I’m so interested in Villanelle and Constantine’s relationship. I don’t want to say too much about the show, I think it’s better to watch it not knowing too much but it’s so intriguing and very addictive (however, I do think it might be a love it or hate it type of show). This is also one of the rare instances where I’ve liked the programme better than the book it’s based on, the writers have developed the story so well, and the actors are exceptional (Jodie is the queen of accents). The fact that this is a female driven story that steers away from gender stereotypes and positively represents sexualities (this is a hard one to explain because the story is written in a way that promotes good gay and bisexual representation, however, Villanelles relationships or rather fixations are definitely not okay hahaha, I hope you get what I mean).  

Gavin and Stacey

I love programmes that focus on everyday events and ‘normal’ relatable characters that focus on ‘British humour’. The characters in Gavin and Stacey are obviously slightly characterised for humour but I relate to so many aspects of the events and both families are incredibly relatable (I agree with Smithy, food is not for sharing and I will always get my own hahaha). It is the ability to empathise with the characters that make this programme so funny and heart-warming, this is such a good programme to watch if you feel a bit down or in need of comfort. The Christmas special just reaffirmed how well loved this programme is and created a sense of community with everyone else watching. James and Ruth are incredibly good writers and extremely funny actors, what a skill to write a show where the title characters are the least interesting. I would love to hear from anyone outside of the UK who has watched this programme, I’d be really interested in how it comes across. 😊 p.s the catch phrases will stay in your mind forever, I find myself saying ‘Oh my Christ!’ constantly hahaha.

The Inbetweeners

This is another programme with this type of British humour, the caricatured personalities are still incredibly (and depressingly haha) relatable and lots of the joy of this programme is cringing at the misfortunates as you decide what character you are most like. I’ve probably seen each episode 20 times and I still find is so funny, I’ve never really watched anything from the same genre that lives up to it. I think my favourite episodes are maybe Caravan club, and Will’s birthday with the French guy.  I think I might be a mixture of Neil and Simon, but as long as I don’t become Jay I can deal with it.

Friends

This is the type of programme that I will always find funny and comforting, and I probably know 90% of the words to every episode. The characters are incredibly likeable (although I’m still not sure how to feel about being compared to Phoebe more than once hahaha, I think I’m her with a lil bit of Chandlers sarcasm and self-loathing thrown in) and it’s overall just a classic, I’m not even sure what to say about it because everyone has seen it! I think Ross is probably very underrated (although he does have many MANY issues), so many of his moments are the best (holiday armadillo, sandwich, english accent at uni, FRONT AND BACK), but I love every character. I also appreciate the minor characters, Gunther’s hair, Mike’s piano miming and Janice’s laugh will stay with me forever. I just rewatched Friends in order and strangely season one and ten are my least favourites. In saying this, I’ll watch any episode that’s on forever and feel instantly comforted.

Orange is the new black

I haven’t seen this since the final season came out, so my memory has faded a little bit, but this is such an incredible programme. I love the time that has been spent developing each character’s arc and creating everyone’s voice and story, and the way that the writer’s use the plot to highlight social justice issues. I would define this as a drama/dark comedy, and I think there is an incredible balance between each of these elements. This is another example of a tv show that I have enjoyed more than the book it’s based on (although the book is good), and it was such a good decision to move on from Piper’s story to represent the less privileged characters that make up the majority of the prison system. I have so many issues with the prison systems and justice system in general (particularly America’s, the gun crime and corruption between police officers and POC is horrific), and this programme does such a good job of emphasising that woman in prison are people before they are criminals, so many crimes are related to addiction and mental health issues, and the lack of rehabilitation and prison conditions are doing nothing positive to counter the cycle of deprivation and lack of opportunity. I would definitely recommend this programme to all and think it has something to offer everyone, please do be prepared to cry (although you will laugh lots too). 😊

Grey’s anatomy

This is a programme that I watched around two years ago and haven’t seen since, I’ve still to watch the last season but I’m really not in the place to be crying at 3am just now haha. This programme is not realistic, both in terms of the number of main characters to die horrific deaths and- as my nurse friend has informed me- examples of the medical treatments administered. My memory is a little bit fuzzy as to what exactly makes this so addictive (and has made me stay up until 5am on many a night), but I think it’s the interesting characters and melodramatic yet easy to watch plots that create an addictive combination (interestingly, I find Meredith incredibly annoying and yet that doesn’t put me off the programme). I think the earlier seasons are slightly more enjoyable as everything felt new and the many MANY character deaths felt slightly more realistic, and I preferred the programme before (SPOILERS!):

Sandra Oh left (I love her), and most of the main characters died or left the show. Lexie’s death got me most of all, that was one of the few that wasn’t spoiled for me and I SOBBED at 3am, that whole episode was so intense and haunting. I may eventually re-watch Grey’s (when I want to torture myself haha) and return to the crazy world. 😊

Honourable mentions:

Misfits– this programme is incredibly unique and funny, I love the black humour, characters, and crazy plotlines. The music in this show is also amazing, I created many an angsty playlist based on this show in my teenage years. I preferred Misfits before Nathan left (he was an incredible character), but it stayed original throughout.

Peaky blinders– this would probably be in my favourites, but it’s another show I haven’t seen for ages so I can’t remember much about it (and I haven’t seen the last season, please no spoilers). I really enjoy the suspense and atmosphere, I love a programme that can feel relatively slowly paced but keep me intrigued, and I of course love Tommy Shelby and the outfits. I will also always be thankful to Peaky Blinders for sparking my love of Arctic Monkeys (I’m starting to realise that music has a large part to play in my enjoyment of a tv show or film).

You– a good example of black humour, my old favourite. This is such an interesting concept for a show and every time I watch it, I binge it within a day. Somehow despite the incredibly annoying characters (Joe’s a psychopath, Beck is so irritating, and I despise Love), this is amazing. I think the characters are actually meant to be annoying to parallel society and reflect Joe’s perception (I hope so anyway because it’s quite a talent to write such intensely irritating characters). Based on this list I think I’m drawn to a good psychopath now and again.

Black mirror– another incredibly interesting concept, I love this programme. If you haven’t seen it, I will advise that it’s very dark and maybe not ideal for these crazy pandemic times haha, but it’s so so interesting. I also love that each episode is standalone (although that didn’t stop me from binging it), though there are little linking features throughout, such as that one song that comes up in most episodes. This was another show that made me look a bit like a psychopath when I recommended it to family and friends, given that the first episode really sets the tone with the prime minister/pig scenario (I actually think they’ve swapped the Netflix order so that that episode doesn’t put people off haha).

Girls/broad city– every so often I like a self-involved parody of twenty something year olds in New York. I really enjoyed watching Girls, however, I’m vaguely aware that there is controversy surrounding Lena Dunham and Girls has a number of issues, such as the lack of representation of POC in the early seasons. These characters are incredibly selfish and very unlikable towards the end haha, but this is almost the point of the programme and it’s well written. Broad City has the same humour and satirical vibe (sorry for saying vibe hahaha I can’t think of another word), but a far better representation of issues of feminism, racism and discrimination throughout- although it is predominantly a satirical comedy.

Vampire diaries– this is such a guilty pleasure; I haven’t watched this in a couple of years and I’m so tempted to rewatch it during lockdown. Elena is incredibly whiney, and Stefan irritates me (as do many of the characters) but there are surprisingly touching elements and I love the melodrama (I love Damon hahaha). I did stop watching when Nina left, I don’t think it was the same after this point. The programme has many problems but for its teen angsty vampire genre, it is not the worst I’ve seen.

Overall, I think my favourites are character driven, heart-warming addictive tv shows, with a few psychopaths and eccentric characters thrown in. I also like to torture myself with programmes that will make me cry at 3am. Please let me know some of your favourite programmes and feel free to recommend! Thank you for reading, I hope you’re well! 😊

Rereading the Hunger Games trilogy (spoiler: one of my favourite book series’)

The Hunger games

I decided to reread the Hunger Games this month for a number of reasons- I reread my favourite book series’ around every two years (I love rereading, it’s a problem haha), The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes is causing a lot of Hunger Games discussions which really made me want to reread, and I’ve found that there is something strangely entertaining about reading dystopian during a lockdown (in a very odd, dark way).  I first read this series when I was around 14 or 15, without any expectations as I hadn’t heard about the series until my friend recommended it (thank you)- it’s strange to think about the extent to which a film franchise can influence the popularity of a book. I definitely think reading this series before the film came out gave me an advantage; I was able to objectively form opinions and I was unprepared for the depth of emotion and the attachment I developed to these characters whilst reading. I’d just like to say that this is not an academic analysis or review or these books, more so a stream of consciousness so that I can ramble about my thoughts and the emotions I experienced whilst reading. I’ll also say here that I typically do not like YA books and a number of their tropes, however, I would class this series as a favourite, and I think it’s beautiful. P.s. sorry this is a long one, also there will be spoilers.

Relationships:

I think I should first address the love triangle: it’s a standard trope in YA that I usually hate, but I think it works in this story. The format of the story and the situations that drive the characters actions and decisions allow the ‘love triangle’ to feel natural and true. A large part of Katniss’ story arc is initially feeling like a pawn of the capital with the burden that is thrust upon her. Katniss’ relationship arcs with both Gale and Peeta make sense within the context of the story and are very interesting in understanding Katniss’ character and the influence of this dystopian society. When I read the Hunger Games for the first time, I was ‘team Gale’ due to the similarities between Gale and Katniss, their pre-hunger games connection and I just liked him more overall. However, I think this was just to get away from the popular opinion haha, and even on first read, the love triangle was definitely not the forefront of my mind; these books are about character and identity, with love and relationships developing as a natural outcome of these themes. I love that the ‘romance’ has been written in this way and I’ll talk more about this when I think about Mockingjay. I love the metaphors and illusions to hope, life and future that are associated with Peeta, creating a subtle (in comparison to a number of YA books) depiction of Katniss’ connection to Peeta before their relationship begins. Peeta personifies safety, warmth and assurance for Katniss who would have been open to these qualities had she not been forced into such a horrific situation.

No one has held me like this in such a long time. Since my father died and I stopped trusting my mother, no one else’s arms have made me feel this safe.’ (Hunger Games pg. 363)

Characterisation and themes of grief/loss:

I don’t know if I feel more sensitive or ‘connected’ to books during this time of lockdown, but I instantly felt a strange sense of emotion and nostalgia when I started reading this book. I’ve spent a lot of time in woods and forests, and whilst I’ve definitely not been hunting or sleeping in trees, I’ve felt more connected to nature (I’ve always loved nature but a benefit of this time is experiencing it more deeply). I love birdsongs and I’ve been thinking and the importance of birds and nature within this story. I recently read Jen Campbells Instagram story (she’s a writer and talks about books on youtube), where she filmed a beautiful 5am sunrise in an isolated forest with birdsong and wildlife. Jen heard a bird mimicking an ambulance siren in a haunting and sad moment. This contrast of beautiful untouched nature, and the difficult experiences of human life was very emotional and reminded me of The Hunger Games, where the environment creates a peaceful escape for Katniss even within the confines and struggles of her lifestyle. I think in character I’m closer to Peeta than Katniss, and even more so Prim (although I’m not as kind, I think it’d be hard to be), however, I identify with Katniss’ independence and almost closed off nature that has been heavily influenced by the loss of her father (in writing a collection of my thoughts, this may become a bit deep at times). My dad passed away when I was 11 and the portrayal of grief and loss throughout this series is one of the main reasons it resonates so closely with me; I find Collins depiction of grief to be incredibly realistic and allows me to identify with the very real characters, even in such a dramatic story. I relate to Katniss’ sense of independence and extremely close relationship to her family (as well as her drive to look after and protect them)- I think it is extremely realistic to assume that these qualities would drive Katniss after the death of her father. Katniss’ sense of identity is primarily focused on her adoption of her father’s role as a hunter and provider for the family. Collins often emphasises the similarities between Prim and her mother, whilst Katniss has her father’s traits and favours her father. I think this is important is understanding her actions and sense of identity. This is also very important in understand Katniss’ relationship with Gale. Gale’s own grief is expressed as anger and rooted in the past. I feel that Katniss ultimately could not find peace in the future if she was to be with Gale, his anger has become so that it makes a large part of who he is- evident in Mockingjay during the rebellion without the confines of the Capitol.

I glance over at Gales face, still smouldering underneath his stony expression. His rage seems pointless to me, although I never say so. It’s not that I don’t agree with him. I do. But what good is yelling about the Capitol in the middle of the woods? It doesn’t change anything.. I let him yell though. Better he does it in the woods that in the district.’ (Hunger Games pg. 17)

I feel that several books, particularly in the ‘chosen one’ genre have the loss of a parent or carer as an adverse experience driving the main character, however, this loss is never mentioned again. Similarly, the main character will often experience a loss in the middle of a series, to move the plot forward and create character development. I feel that The Hunger Games deals with grief more authentically and Katniss’ memories of her dad are interwoven into the story in a very natural way, influencing her sense of identity and relationships (Katniss’ somewhat unconscious struggle to feel safe and let people in is a very important aspect in her dynamic with Peeta throughout the trilogy). I’ll reflect more on the themes on loss and grief in Mockingjay (after I cry for several hours haha) but I truly admire Collins ability to create a perfect, authentic tone.

Writing style:

I really enjoy the simple writing style and structured format of these books. It can’t be described as calming due to the subject matter, however, I find the format almost satisfying: Katniss deals with the immediate problem, breaks it down and finds a solution. This format ensures that the book is fast paced, interesting and easy to read. I also feel that this approach to problem solving matches Katniss’ instincts as a hunter, and therefore feels like the narration is personalised; it feels like the writing structure is reflective of Katniss’ character and role specifically, rather than a generic narrator. This writing style also creates fast paced storytelling and gets across the message of the story quickly and powerfully.

Identity:

I noticed in rereading that identity appears to be the key theme and is driven by the element’s safety vs. rebellion and family/relationships. Another element of this series that makes it a favourite for me is the fact that these characters are real multi-dimensional people aiming to find a purpose and dealing with the emotions that life brings; the dystopian setting and plot of the games feels secondary to me, but this setting has been used as a device to reflect upon the influence of society, culture and safety on a person’s identity and happiness. I find this incredibly interesting, and coupled with the attachment to the characters, this story is one that really stays with the reader (for the most part any way, I’m sure some people don’t like these books). I think themes of identity are set up in the Hunger Games and are explored more deeply in the next two books.

For the first time, I allow myself to truly think about the possibility that I might make it home.. No fear of hunger. A new kind of freedom. But then…what? Most of it has been consumed with the acquisition of food. Take that away and I’m not really sure who I am, what my identity is.’ (Hunger Games pg. 378)

As I slowly, thoroughly wash the makeup from my face and put my hair in it’s braid, I begin transforming into myself.. I stare in the mirror as I try to remember who I am and who I am not. By the time I join the others, the pressure of Peeta’s arm around my shoulders feels alien. (Hunger Games pg. 450)

Catching Fire

After the games, Katniss (and all of the people in her life) is impacted by more loss and trauma. Katniss has lost the sense of identity she has worked hard to create with the money (and notoriety) she has gained, and I was very interested in the ways in which this perceived freedom and ironically increased restriction impacted Katniss’ sense of identity. Katniss begins to try and align her identity with one that can exist within a state of rebellion. For Katniss, rebellion represents a shift from survival instincts to fighting for Peeta’s life.

Now a new kind of confidence is lighting up inside of me, because I think I finally know who Haymitch is. And I’m beginning to know who I am. And surely, two people who have caused the Capitol so much trouble can think of a way to get Peeta home alive.’ (Catching Fire pg. 244)

Katniss is still treated as a ‘pawn’ in catching fire, passive in the events and rebellious opportunities that have been created. Gale and Peeta represent interest in the building rebellion more so that Katniss, and throughout this story the shift can be observed. I liked Katniss’ uncertainty and shifts in attitude that continued throughout Catching Fire and Mockingjay with regards to rebellion, I think this uncertainty matches Katniss’ identity and is more realistic than the enthusiastic ‘chosen one’ arc that several main characters in dystopian or YA books take on. Again, these shifts and Katniss’ part in the rebellion feel more nuanced and realistic than the sudden and bold character changes I’ve observed in some books.

The berries. I realise the answer to who I am lies in that handful of poisonous fruit. If I held them out to save Peeta because I knew I would be shunned if I came back without him, then I am despicable. If I held them out because I loved him, I am still self-centred but forgivable. But if I held them out to defy the Capitol, I am someone of worth. The trouble is, I don’t know what exactly was going on inside me at that moment.’ (Catching Fire pg. 143)

Mockingjay

I should probably say that I’ve been writing this in chunks, and I’m writing this part directly after finishing Mockingjay- well, an hour after because I couldn’t see the keyboard through my tears (it’s 2am, I’m definitely a night owl). Thank you if you’ve made it this far, I’ve loved writing and reflecting in this way even though I know I’m going to post this and think of so many things I’ve forgotten to mention haha.

Haymitch:

The first thing it strikes me that I want to think about is Haymitch and his relationship with Katniss. Haymitch represents so many things: I see him as an equal to Katniss in a sense, they are very similar and mirror each other in personality, spirit and logic, however, he has a number of roles to play in Katniss’ life- almost a brother or an uncle and in some ways even a father figure (not in a traditional sense, but in the way that Katniss requires him to be and to the extent that she can accept). Relationships and character are the most important elements of a book for me, and I love Katniss’ relationship with Haymitch. At the end of Catching Fire, Katniss is left reflecting upon her own rage and the anger at Haymitch’s betrayal, the way that he has used her as she is consistently used. Katniss is continuously used by the rebellion, individuals, and the Capitol representing the war and politics around her. In this sense, Katniss is a pawn in the rebellion. I was, however, interested to note that Katniss’ instinctual actions in times of agency ‘spark’ the instances where she becomes- as she perceives herself- a pawn. The tribute for Rue, the berries, and Katniss decision to confide in- and therefore trust- Haymitch in her plan to rebel (during Catching Fire). As a side note, this quote represents important growth in Katniss’ transition from pawn:

It just goes around and around, and who wins? Not us. Not the districts. Always the capitol. But I’m tired of being a piece in their games.’ Peeta. On the rooftop the night before out first Hunger Games. He understood it all before we’d even set foot in the arena.’ (Mockingjay, pg. 252)

 Katniss truly understands her connection to Haymitch and feels like she is observing in him the qualities her own qualities that she does not like. I believe that this is why Katniss is incredibly intolerant of his drinking and depression, she cannot abide by weakness and is exceptionally hard on herself when she feels weak. Haymitch potentially represents the reality of the future Katniss could face. In saying this, I love the subtle but essential character development throughout the books as Katniss’ perception of weakness, grief and loss changes to become far more accepting and less black and white. In seeing herself in Haymitch, he is the character Katniss ends up confiding in and displaying vulnerability towards; this results in so many of the cutting remarks that create frustration or a sense of betrayal when Katniss or Haymitch inevitably hurt each other and ‘put up their walls’ to mask their pain. I find their relationship very interesting and touching. I also appreciate their ending in Mockingjay and the way it reflects their relationship and personalities- they are quietly and steadily there for each other even in the times where grief and illness create a need for solitude. Their relationship is consistently steadied by Peeta.

He looks yellow and has lost a lot of weight, giving him a shrunken appearance. For a second, I’m afraid he’s dying. I have to remind myself that I don’t care.(Mockingjay, pg.87)

Several sets of arms would embrace me. But in the end, the only person I truly want to comfort me is Haymitch, because he loves Peeta too. I reach out for him and say something like his name and he’s there holding me and patting my back. (Mockingjay, pg. 191)

‘A furious Peeta hammers Haymitch with the atrocity he could become party to, but I can feel Haymitch watching me. This is the moment then. When we find out exactly how alike we are, and how much he understands me. ‘I’m with the Mockingjay’ he says. (Mockingjay pg. 432, deciding upon a final games)

I’d also like to mention that I love Katniss’ relationship with Finnick. Finnick’s death is always a strange one for me. I feel that it’s a good example of the point about narration that I rambled about earlier. Finnick’s death is exceptionally sad but I never really feel it and this is because it’s over quickly and I feel numb. In writing this way, the reader experiences the numbness that Katniss feels at this moment, the lethargy and horror of War (I also feel that the volume of events and horror happening in this relatively short story are written to represent the strange mixture of lethargy and adrenaline felt in War. That sounds very dramatic, but I just mean I think Collins may be trying to engage us in the setting and tone, as she does throughout the series through the writing style. Then again, I always somehow end up reading this book in almost one go, ending in the middle of the night haha, so that might contribute to this feeling). I feel Finnick’s death more in rereading Catching Fire and Mockingjay as we see the elements of his personality. Some of my favourite quotes:

Really, the combination of the scabs and the ointment looks hideous. I can’t help enjoying his distress. “Poor Finnick. Is this the first time in your life you haven’t looked pretty?” I say.
“It must be. The sensation’s completely new. How have you managed it all these years?” he asks
.’
(Catching Fire)

Finnick grasps my hand to give me an anchor, and I try to hang on. (Mockingjay pg. 155)

It takes ten times as long to put yourself back together as it does to fall apart. (Mockingjay pg. 183)

I was going to say that I also love hearing Finnick recall his story, however, I realised that I just love his character and entire storyline including his humour and persona in Catching Fire. I love his relationship with Mags, Annie and Joanna, I love his reaction after he saves Peeta’s life and contemplates Katniss’ reaction, I just love his character. I’d also like to spend time thinking about Prim but this is going to become an entire dissertation in a minute so I won’t haha.

Peeta:

There is just so much to say about Peeta that it’s almost making me not want to touch on his character in a way haha, because I wouldn’t do it justice. I didn’t appreciate Peeta’s character the first time I read this series, I think he needed to grow on me because on first read as a teenager he’s not the most ‘exciting’ in comparison to characters like Gale, however, now I appreciate that he’s exceptional. As I mentioned, I love the mirroring of this series and I appreciate that Peeta’s traits, values and qualities align with Prim. Peeta therefore has the ability to recall Prim’s memory and he can support Katniss to process her grief in a positive healthy way.

While I was reading today, I began to consider that Katniss became close to Gale due to the connection in the grief for their fathers, however, Katniss subconsciously associates Gale with her own supressed grief and his rage. Peeta’s memories of Katniss’ father are distanced from the loss and grief, and Peeta therefore brings life to her father in the way he recalls his singing. In having this ability, Peeta creates an opportunity for Katniss to think of a way forward through her grief and create a sense of peace in her memories for her father (and sister). This is almost a metaphor for Katniss’ entire relationship with both Gale and Peeta and represents the way Peeta helps Katniss to live and grow and overall represents life.

Rue, who when you ask her what she loves most in the world, replies, of all things ‘music’. ‘Music?’ I say. In our world, I rank music somewhere between hair ribbons and rainbows in terms of usefulness.’ (Hunger Games pg. 255)

This is the first time music is referenced in the story. Katniss is in character here with her roles driven by a need to survive and her hunter instincts not allowing time for anything that is not a necessity.

Because when he sings.. even the birds stop to listen.’.. It strikes me that my own reluctance to sing, my own dismissal of music might not really be that it’s a waste of time. It might be because it reminds me too much of my father.’ (Hunger Games pg. 366)

Even as Katniss and Peeta are just getting to know each other, and within such extreme life threatening circumstances, Peeta is the one to draw out memories of Katniss’ father and allow Katniss to process her grief in subtle ways.

‘A hush in the trees. Just the rustle of leaves in the breeze. But no birds, mockingjay or other. Peeta’s right. They do fall silent when I sing. Just as they did for my father.’ (Mockingjay pg. 145)

He couldn’t Haymitch. He never heard me sing that song.’ ‘Not you, your father. He heard him singing it one day when he came to trade at the bakery. Peeta was small, probably six or seven, but he remembered it because he was specially listening to see if the birds stopped singing.’ (Mockingjay pg. 246)

Peeta and Rue allow Katniss to think about singing again, representing a healthy outlet for grief and the time to remember her father as he lived. I find this incredibly poignant. I’ve always felt deeply connected to music and singing, and I remember my Dad through his favourite songs. This can be painful but it’s very healthy and allows me to feel connected and feel the emotions that are important to experience. I can also feel incredibly happy when I sing a song that reminds me of childhood, or a funny memory associated with my dad. The moment that I really start to cry whilst reading Mockingjay is without fail always this one:

something unexpected happens. I begin to sing.. Hour after hour of ballads, love songs, mountain airs. All the songs my father taught me before he died, for certainly there has been very little music in my life since.. a voice that would make the mockingjays fall silent and then tumble over themselves to join in.’ (Mockingjay pg. 439)

The ending:

I’d like to reflect upon the ending of the story now. Because I love character driven stories, I’m actually quite lazy with plot and while I find action scenes interesting, I prefer them to be short to I can get to the impact of these events. This may be the reason that I was very happy with the decision to stay with Katniss and her recovery and discover the conclusion of the war as Katniss does. For one, Katniss has a strong presence as a narrator, and I hate when books turn to a different narrator nearing the end of a story as I find it very jarring. This is a story about characters (particularly Katniss) and the impact of War and loss. This is not a story about a rebellion or War, rather those who are impacted by the War and politics they had no intention to be involved in or no power to avoid. At no point did I want the story to become one of action and rebellion, and at no point did I feel I missed anything by staying with Katniss. I wouldn’t have brought this up, but I made the mistake of reading a number of Mockingjay reviews after reading it for the first time and I was shocked to read so many angry reviews that felt cheated out of the action. This is just my opinion, but I feel that this is missing the point of the series and I don’t know what readers are getting out of this story if after three books they do not feel close to the main character. I interpret the purpose of Mockingjay as being a story to reflect upon the themes of meaning, choice and identity within a society that limits free will through it’s constructs that confine the lifestyle people can have.

This leads on to another point that I saw several readers make- reviewers expressed anger or confusion about the way the romance ends. Some people commented that they expected Katniss and Peeta to be together immediately after the War, to be more ‘passionately’ in love. Again, in my opinion, I feel that this distance and time is the only realistic portrayal of love in a setting where the characters are experiencing so much grief and PTSD. After overcoming the initial trauma, Katniss is finally free to build her life, rediscover who she is out with the confines of the capitol and think about the future she wants- or even just the future she can cope with. This is also true for Peeta. To have these characters gravitate towards each other through choice after a period of  time portrays (in my opinion)  the depth of their relationship and is the only realistic way to express that Katniss loves Peeta- she chooses him, he is not chosen for her, she does not have to be with Peeta or see him ever again, she chooses him freely (as does Peeta). I absolutely love the way this happens even though it is heart-breaking. I also love the writing decision to rebuild their relationship by supporting each other through grief, this is again realistic and emphasises the love they feel (I also love that Haymitch continues to be in their lives as the three resume their roles in their relationship dynamics).

Lastly in my seemingly endless ramble, the epilogue. In general, I hate book epilogues, I don’t even like Harry Potters, I tolerate it. I think it’s the time element that can feel a bit jarring and makes me feel distanced from characters I love. I do, however, think Mockingjay did it well by keeping it brief, sentimental but with purpose. I’ve read reviews where readers were unhappy that we did not read more detail such as the children’s names. I’m very happy these details were not included; they don’t need to be and would take away from the ending of the story in my opinion. I’ve also seen reviews where people express anger that Katniss has children. I understand these more, however, I think the point within the story is not that Katniss doesn’t want children, but instead that she is afraid to raise them in a society where they could be involved in the games. Katniss is incredibly nurturing towards Prim and Rue and I personally believe that her actions express that she would like to be a mother, she has just never allowed herself to think about this. 

As I drift off, I try to imagine that world, somewhere in the future, with no games, no Capitol. A place like the meadow in the song I sang to Rue as she died. Where Peeta’s child could be safe. (Catching Fire pg. 427)

I was going to go into grief a little bit more, but I’d rather leave it where it is in a somewhat happier note. I do, however, as I’ve mentioned appreciate the portrayal of grief in this series, I find it very realistic (and therefore very hard to read at the end of Mockingjay). I’m sure this is going to sound dramatic, but I feel like books can be an outlet for grief. I’m constantly brought back to the comfort and nostalgia of rereading my old favourites, but ironically a lot of my favourite books feature elements of grief, for example, The Hunger Games, Harry Potter and The Time Travellers Wife. These book also feature friendship, love and characters that I feel connected to, and I think I’ve therefore come to associate these characters and consequently reading as a safe and comforting way to cope with grief and anxieties in life. That sounds very depressing and morbid, but I think it’s quite magical in a way. That someone can write a story, create a fictional character that can resonate with your personality, experiences, interests, emotions and even grief, and that this work of fiction can comfort and potentially heal. This is why I think writers are incredible and why I read.

Thank you for reading, I hope you’re well. Please let me know what you think about this series.