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Do You Hear the Wednesdays Sing?

What I've Finished Reading

Mockingjay! When I first started reading The Hunger Games I got some warnings that the second two books weren't as good as the first, and that's probably objectively true, but I'm so glad that I read them that I barely even noticed. I didn't really believe in the rebellion as it was happening, which undermined things a little, but not as much as you might expect. This has never been a series where seamless plotting and economic feasibility were the point. I've spent a lot of time over the past couple of weeks making fun of/trying to make sense of the worldbuilding, but I've also been consistently impressed by Collins' achievement here: these books were totally addictive, totally memorable, smart and humane.

I know I just said "memorable," but actually, a few days after finishing the book, the details of the plot have already blurred together into a haze of impressions. I'm not sure that's actually a contradiction: the events are mostly just carriers for the imagery, the emotional beats and Collins' meticulous and unsentimental depictions of trauma.

[Some things that happen in Mockingjay]Peeta gets brainwashed by the Capitol. The rebels kidnap him back (and another tribute who was being held as emotional leverage), but he's been conditioned to hate and fear Katniss, and has to be gradually de-conditioned by the District 13ers. Eventually the rebels storm the Capitol, and there's a horrible attack of uncertain provenance. It's suggested that Rebel Leader Coin masterminded it, but I'm not clear on whether that's ever confirmed. Coin DOES try to ring in the new regime by setting up a whole new round of Hunger Games for the children of the Capitol elite, so that those bastards can see how they like it, but Katniss is somewhat too conveniently able to shut this plan down by shooting Coin, instead of our favorite incompetent dictator President Snow, at what's intended to be Snow's execution. Luckily, Snow meets an equally convenient end soon after. Not that I'm complaining! Who wants a downer ending with a new Hunger Games and a never-ending cycle of vengeance? It's convenient. But what's the point of going to all the trouble of writing a book if you can't keep your fictional revolution from eating its children?

Technically there's still kind of a half-hearted love triangle knocking around the edges, but it hardly ever comes up and there's never any real uncertainty about Katniss ditching her childhood buddy Stormy McVengeance in favor of Literal Breadname the steady and nurturing rock biscuit (with extra cinnamon). I don't think it was really necessary to have Gale hanging around representing The Fighter in this dilemma of how to live in response to oppression, because Katniss is already The Fighter and knows perfectly well from experience how exhausting it gets after the first ten minutes.

The epilogue makes the series, in my opinion.

[The questions are just beginning.]
The questions are just beginning. The arenas have been completely destroyed, the memorials built, there are no more Hunger Games. But they teach about them in school, and the girl knows we played a role in them. The boy will know in a few years. How can I tell them about that world without frightening them to death?

This isn't one of your pessimistic post-apocalyptic dystopias. The end of the world isn't the end of the world. The way things have always been gets torn down and crumbles to dirt and tomorrow comes anyway. Whether you live to see it is another story. In spite of everything, Katniss and Peeta live to see it. They move back into the old neighborhood, have a garden and some kids, and when they wake up, their nightmares drift back into the past for a little while. We don't actually learn much about the new regime, which is probably a good choice on Collins' part. We know that the Games are over. More people have died for this than they can know or name. Is that a happy ending? It's not the end, and that's something. It's better than they hoped for, and the best they can do.

I finished I Capture the Castle in no time, not because it's a fast-paced book (it's leisurely even when the emotional drama is at its peak) but because I liked the narrator so much and wanted to spend as much time with her and her family as possible. The joke was on me, because I got to the end of the book and then it was over.

I veered between hating the romance plot(s) and being indifferently tolerant toward them. Mostly I just wanted to buy Cassandra a chocolate with some brandy in it and maybe take her to a party where she can meet more than two people. Simon and Neil are the only really uninteresting characters in a gallery of wonderfully even-handed, funny and tolerant portraits - though I don't know if I would have found them as uninteresting if they hadn't been so pointedly the only love interest game in town. I did very much appreciate that [Spoiler!] we did not go with a Childhood Sweethearts Forever ending - I was glad for that even though I liked Stephen about a billion times better than the Bros. Netherfield. Anyway, the romance plot was saved by its inconclusiveness: we don't know by the end if she's going to marry anyone, but we do know that she's writing a lot and getting better at it, or at least getting accustomed to the difficulty of making sentences out of feelings, and that's exactly as it should be.

I wished there were a little more about her dad and Topaz, because I loved them (Cassandra's dad is a nicely unsentimentalized Troubled Writer who doesn't write anything; Topaz is just the best) but they were treated at a level of detail that was realistic for Cassandra, so I won't complain.

“For the poor Lady Clare, she is a personage of still greater insipidity and insignificance. The author seems to have formed her upon the principle of Mr. Pope's maxim, that women have no character at all. We find her everywhere, where she has no business to be, neither doing anything of the least consequence, but whimpering and sobbing over the Matrimony in her prayer book, like a great miss from a boarding school; and all this is the more inexcusable, as she is altogether a supernumerary person in the play, who should atone for her intrusion by some brilliancy or novelty of deportment.”

On the one hand, I enjoyed Marmion a lot more than I expected to! At the same time, nothing about it has stuck in my mind, except an overall sense of Tropes Achieved: the Andre Norton of poetry? I've just started an Andre Norton book which feels like it will have much the same effect.

One of the suggested exercises at the back of this book has students reading passages from an 1808 review mostly panning Marmion and responding to them. This is something that I would have really enjoyed doing in middle school, but no one ever provided such a resource. If I wanted to see one of our reading assignments panned, I had to do it myself.

What I'm Reading Now

I started True Pretenses by Rose Lerner, but I'm thinking I might not finish it. These guys are appealing character outlines, but they had a whole chapter of dialogue to convince me they were characters and nothing came of it. And what's the point of an allegedly historical novel with no atmosphere, if the language isn't interesting? I'm going to assume I'm just being grumpy because I'm tired and give it another 50 pages to turn itself around.

Sargasso of Space by Andre Norton is a wonderfully unassuming Space TV Adventure (minus the TV). Dane's asshole friends make fun of him when he gets assigned to the lowest class of space trading ship, but he's determined to make the best of it, and the crew of the Solar Queen are friendlier and more interesting than those jerks, anyway. Almost as soon as they're underway, they gamble their salaries on a risky venture: buying sight-unseen trading rights to a Class D planet, which could have intelligent life but could just as easily be a bunch of fish in a bucket or nothing at all. What will they find? Probably something interesting, or there wouldn't be a book here - right? Clunky but earnest Circa 1955 racial diversity and lots of breezy worldbuilding.

What I Plan to Read Next

The Heiress Effect by Courtney Milan, maybe Cotillion. Probably other things.

I need to make an adjustment to my Mount TBR Challenge: I'm going to count books as read if I make an attempt but have to give up after 100 pages. Otherwise I may end up spending a lot of time reading books I don't care about, and I'd rather avoid that for now. No books in this DNF category yet, but I'm sure I'll need it eventually. My Mount TBR count is now 11 books, 1/6 of my total goal, which means I'm about where I should be.

Picnic at Hanging Rock is coming up, one of these days, for the "two books from Australia" portion of my reading challenge. What else is a book from Australia? Has anyone read Carpentaria?


( 10 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 8th, 2017 02:16 pm (UTC)
Simon and Neil are the only really uninteresting characters in a gallery of wonderfully even-handed, funny and tolerant portraits - though I don't know if I would have found them as uninteresting if they hadn't been so pointedly the only love interest game in town.

Poor Simon and Neil! I think Simon has a certain type of scholarly earnestness there, but neither of them can compete with Cassandra, or everyone else's problems and eccentricity. I was 17 when I read it, so I completely and uncritically felt with Cassandra, but I loved the inconclusiveness of it then, even if I hoped that maybe it would work out in the future - everybody caught in a circle of unrequited love, except of course, Rose and Neil who are the two who are actually the most practical people, despite Rose's Romantic looks. I'm glad you enjoyed it, though! It's not as if I'd have unfriended you and never spoken to you again otherwise, but you've got to side-eye people who can't even appreciate the narrative voice and that bit where they lock Mortmain in the tower. (My main problem with the film - apart from the fact that Simon is, if anything, even more bland - is that they try to be too serious about lots of stuff in the end, including that bit. And while I suppose it is a bit serious, it's also very funny.)

I have never read Marmion (I sort of read Ivanhoe once) but I have a feeling it features in Cotillion and thus everything I know about it comes from Heyer. Unless it's Byron. I think it is Marmion, though.

And what's the point of an allegedly historical novel with no atmosphere, if the language isn't interesting?

A good question. The answer, so far as I can tell, seems to be multiple sex scenes and a ready market. /cynical (sorry). (I think that thing you wrote the other time about wanting them to banter etc. - I think I may share that. Like, come on, why is this not a witty screwball 30s romcom with cut-glass bantery dialogue? Maybe that's why Heyer manages, because she started out in the Thirties when all the films were bantering like there was no tomorrow even when they were supposed to angsty. But who knows?)
Mar. 8th, 2017 02:46 pm (UTC)
My main problem with the film - apart from the fact that Simon is, if anything, even more bland - is that they try to be too serious about lots of stuff in the end, including that bit.

Aw, that's too bad. The Captivity of Mortmain was one of the best parts of the book. It would be hard to watch a film adaptation that didn't have the same sense of humor about things, for me. It makes a good balance: Cassandra's writing ambitions and angst are taken seriously by the narrative even when they're funny; Mortmain's are still funny even when they're serious.

As for Simon being even more bland, I find that hard to picture and had better not try. But it may not be entirely his fault; we only have the journal to go on and Cassandra may be holding back on description to avoid projecting too much onto him or any number of perfectly sensible writing choices.

Like, come on, why is this not a witty screwball 30s romcom with cut-glass bantery dialogue?

That's all I want out of life. At least, that's all I want out the romance genre, but I'm afraid I may be barking up the wrong tree.
Mar. 8th, 2017 08:32 pm (UTC)
The film is very nearly there! It gets a bit serious about Mortmain and the cake knife and prison overall, or at least, more so than the book. It is funny in places, and I love most of the casting. So I sort of love it a lot and am dissatisfied by it too. But overall, a nice adaptation to have more than not.

We should probably just watch 1930s screwball comedies instead, I suppose. I keep watching 1930s, but not many of them are actually screwball comedies, although none of them can keep from bantering.
Mar. 8th, 2017 03:16 pm (UTC)
Ooh, oh! If you want books from Australia, I have lots of recommendations! The Billabong series might be too hard to get your hands on (it is older, and it only really gets good in the second book). Isobelle Carmody, however, is still publishing, and many of her books have become available in the US: I'd recommend Alyzon Whitestarr, because it's glorious and also a standalone. (Carmody has a bad habit of starting series and then not finishing them.)

Jaclyn Moriarty is another Australian YA author - I think the best starter book there is The Year of Secret Assignments.

Oh, oh! But I think the one I most recommend is Michelle Cooper's The Montmaray Journals, a trilogy about a tiny island nation in the Bay of Biscay which is taken over by Nazis in the run-up to World War II, so the royal family (who at this point are pretty much the only people left on the island) have to flee to England. And it has the most gloriously I Capture the Castle kind of voice.

And yay, I'm glad you liked I Capture the Castle! And I agree, Neil & Simon are the most boring bits in it, and Simon in particular is such a cad. What kind of guy goes to visit his fiancee's extremely sheltered little sister and plays music with her and kisses her? Stop leading her on, Simon! Of course she fell in love with you!

I always like to imagine that once World War II comes she gets out of her house and joins the war effort and meets lots of new people - it will be good for her writing, after all! - and realizes that there are better fish in the sea than Simon.

I still haven't finished Mockingjay. Oops.
Mar. 8th, 2017 03:50 pm (UTC)
That's a lot of books from Australia! Thank you! I'll have to check those out and see what I want to read (given current self-imposed limitations on how many books I can bring into my home).

So many fish, Cassandra! So wide a sea! Maybe some with personalities, even. Simon is a cad, though I'm sure in the excuse-making portion of his mind he's just being nice to the little sister whom he finds platonically attractive in a cute little-sister way, or something.

Neil seems like he should be a little more interesting but somehow he isn't, for the most part. Cassandra's household is so interesting and the guys who disrupt it are so dull and I'm honestly not sure if this is a flaw in the book or not.

Mockingjay is worth finishing. There's a brighter day ahead for our Cinnamonrohl! It's a bit of a confusing plot muddle getting there, but that's just, like, history, man.

Edited at 2017-03-08 03:57 pm (UTC)
Mar. 8th, 2017 08:36 pm (UTC)
Possibly I should have held my book reviews back to one or two. But there are so many good Australian YA authors that I love! (I think I actually wrote about this in my Sage book, actually, she thinks maybe her hypothetical future as an author is RUINED because she is not Australian and clearly all the best authors are.) And I didn't even mention Garth Nix or Justine Larbelestier!

I should see if Justine Larbelestier has come out with anything recently, by the by. It's been a while sense I've checked.

And I definitely intend to finish Mockingjay. I had a ritual set up for reading these books - I'd walk over to Starbucks & get a hot chocolate and read the next part (the books being cut neatly into three parts a piece, this was very convenient) - and then I gave up sweets for Lent and it destroyed my ritual and I have not yet convinced myself to face the darkness that is surely coming for Cinnamonrohl (even if they do get through it to the light) without it.
Mar. 8th, 2017 10:41 pm (UTC)
No worries! Trying to pick only two books to read from an entire continent was always going to be an impossible task, even if it is the smallest continent.

Some of that darkness is pretty rough, I can't lie. :( But there will be real light, too.
Mar. 8th, 2017 03:55 pm (UTC)
I loved Elyne Mitchell's 'Silver Brumby' books as a kid about wild horses in the outback. Not sure how they'd stand up to adult reading, but she was very good in giving a sense of the landscape. I wouldn't know about snow gums without her.

I've also read a book on aboriginal art that was good as it explained their religion and the meanings of their art. Can't remember the title though!
Mar. 8th, 2017 04:04 pm (UTC)
I don't know about snow gums now! Should I ask, or should I wait to find out via Silver Brumby?

Not sure how I'm going to choose only two books to read for the whole of Australia, but I'll manage somehow.
Mar. 8th, 2017 04:07 pm (UTC)
Heh, they're a type of tree, no spoilers:) The books are nicely illustrated if you like horses too.
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