Wednesday, 15 April 2015

BOOK REVIEW: THE FAULT IN OUR STARS BY JOHN GREEN


Despite the tumor-shrinking medical miracle that has bought her a few years, Hazel has never been anything but terminal, her final chapter inscribed upon diagnosis. But when a gorgeous plot twist named Augustus Waters suddenly appears at Cancer Kid Support Group, Hazel's story is about to be completely rewritten.



Insightful, bold, irreverent, and raw, The Fault in Our Stars is award-winning author John Green's most ambitious and heartbreaking work yet, brilliantly exploring the funny, thrilling, and tragic business of being alive and in love.






Spoiler-free review.






Everything I was told to expect about The Fault In Our Stars is a lie.


In a memorable and oft-cited first paragraph of this novel, Hazel Grace remarks how depression is commonly regarded as a side effect of cancer. Apart from everything else this paragraph stands for, in retrospect I feel like it was an apt opening line for a cancer book which is most commonly referred to as depressing.

Don't get me wrong - I was told to expect greatness. But I was told to expect to discover this book's inner greatness through floods of tears, lots of tears, gushes of tears, epiphanies which stem from deep misery and tears, profound heartache and an abundance of tears (no pun intended). I was told to expect Alice to paddle up to me in a canoe and accuse me of reactive plagiarism, because flooding the world with tears is her thing. Which is how I came to be the last human being alive to ever read this book. I wasn't in the mood for soul-crushing devastation most of the time, oddly enough.

Which brings me back to TFIOS being nothing like I expected. The parts I was told would be the most memorable didn't strike me as groundbreaking (the okays, for example, were mostly just okay for me), whereas parts which I've never heard anyone quote or promise to be the most entertaining were precisely the ones that were. And yes, I said entertaining. Because in essence, and where it truly counts, for me personally TFIOS is a profoundly humorous portrayal of the intermingling lives of cancer patients, their, the marks they leave on one another and the world and their quest for remembrance. What TFIOS was not about (again, subject to subjectiveness) is an endless line of tragic, devastating deaths of this crowd. This is where I was the most deceived. I was frankly thrilled to discover that the primary themes of TFIOS center not around coffins or funerals, rather an attempt to understand why and how we are here, not only individually, but also for each other. And then for the universe as a whole. "The world wasn't built for humans, we were built for the world." Because Augustus Waters often has a point. (Except when he doesn't. And when he doesn't, his lack of a point is a point in itself, so it always works out well. Except when it doesn't.)

What little I expected from TFIOS which did, in fact, prove accurate was therefore oddly comforting. TFIOS is a John Green novel through and through. As such, it is predominantly character-driven and spans massive character arcs in only so many pages. This is not a story where the plot would have gone down similarly in the absence of these protagonist to drive it to its conclusion (and believe me, there are such books!). This is a plot which serves to compliment and (allegorically) illustrate character development. Which is how I prefer my stories, and which was therefore a welcome relief. ("I'll have some character development with a side of plot, please.") Because John Green writes lives rather than stories, and these lives are surprisingly relatable, even when they are a far cry from our own. (And yes, I am aware that relatable is not a word, but... creative license.) In the end, we find ourselves relating to cancer patients, and therefore understanding that these cancer patients aren't much different from ourselves. So John achieves destigmatization of the ill not by writing a story about stigma, but about writing characters who disprove it effortlessly.

Isaac: I dislike living in a world without [my friend].
Computer: I don't understand-
Isaac: Me neither.

TFIOS also happens to be just about the only book where the (in)famous instalove, insta-connection and insta-everything is completely and utterly justified, by the nature of the circumstances alone. We see these characters bond and connect so fast, and rather than to excuse it by crying "It's only one standalone novel, the author has no choice," we instead nod and say to ourselves "This all makes sense, within the numbered days." And by that extension, I didn't find the dialogue to be that ostentatious, either.

Perhaps the thing I was warned about the most was the heavy reliance on metaphor and incomprehensible dialogue where teenagers are wise beyond their years. The reason why it didn't feel this way to me was probably 60% due to my tendency to speak like a Jane Austen novel, and 40% due to the fact that it... just... wasn't. (Is that a point? That's a terrible point. I'm sorry.) Through Hazel, John Green himself admits that on a continuum between y'know, like, totally ordinary, um, speech and the presumptuous posh discourse of decades' past, the book does veer slightly toward the latter (at one point, Hazel and Isaac note that "he's a bit too enamored with metaphor," which could just as easily apply to John Green as it could Augustus Waters). But I fall on the side of Magritte-Humor-Appreciation and Metaphor-Welcoming-Committee. (If ever of those ever becomes a thing, please let me know.) And I've only just left my teen years myself. The TFIOS humor, quotes and one-liners just happen to suit some and not others. As with all things in life, it is as simple, and as complicated, as that.


"I didn't tell him that the diagnosis came three months after I got my first period. Like: Congratulations! You're a woman. Now die."

Did I know how the novel would end before I picked it up?
Yes, I did.
Did it make me less emotionally unreasonable about it all?
No, it did not.
Did I at that moment wish John would have instead written about the struggles of a puppy-sized elephant instead?
Yes, I did.
But am I ultimately glad he didn't?
Yes, I am. TFIOS needed to be told. (God knows Rijksmuseum isn't telling it any time soon.)








Are you one of the billion wiser souls (and lesser chickens) who read The Fault In Our Stars on time? Or are you, too, still eyeing it apprehensively? Leave us a comment below and let us know if this review bettered or worsened your impressions. Or find us on all manner of social media, because we're social butterflies... as long as it's online. And as always - DFTBA.



No comments:

Post a Comment