“Damn near genius . . . The Fault in Our Stars is a love story, one of the most genuine and moving ones in recent American fiction, but it’s also an existential tragedy of tremendous intelligence and courage and sadness.”

NO MAJOR SPOILERS

Over the years I have oh so many book reviews which have slated books for one reason or another. If the writer is one I normally read, I read it anyway, and do not agree. One such book was The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks, one of Bob Shaw’s books being another. Needless to say, the same is true for books that get good reviews, or are so-called ‘classics’, Prune & Beetlejuice for example. So now we come The Fault in Our Stars. How does it stand up for its high praise, at least for me?

So many people recommend this one as being a great book and for some time I dithered over buying it. Out shopping one day I found it at a bargain price so I bought it. It’s sat in my TBR plie for ages now so it was time to try it. Oh my … why did I wait so long? I read this in a record time for me, around four days, approx. 12 hours of reading. Hazel is a 16-year-old girl with terminal cancer. She meets a boy, Gus, a tad older than herself and they fall in love. Romance stories are not my cuppa but this isn’t a straight love story. Tied in to the story is another boy who loves a different girl, but she dumps him when she learns he is going blind.

Another thread that should gladden the hearts of all FRAers, is the encouragement of all readers; Gus reads Hazels fav read, Hazel reads the sci/fi series he loves, and joins in with playing his video games too. The US has a system where cancer kids can make a wish and they get granted wherever possible. With this in mind they jet off to Europe for a few days.

As I read this one I made a few notes along the way, quotes if you like, from the text. The first one is from Hazel’s mum at hearing the diagnose; ‘I won’t be a Mom anymore,’ she weeps to her hubby. That has to be one the most emotional statement I have ever read in a book, and of course the same would apply to Dads too. The next one is, ‘The universe demands to be noticed.’ Indeed, it does. How many people become mesmerised by the Milky Way, a total eclipse of the sun, a super moon and so on.

The next one is on the subject of pain, something we have all felt at some time, some of us more than others. But there again, there’s a world of difference between the pain in our head when we head-butt a shelf or something. Then there is the pain losing someone or something you love. But surely the worst pain of all is that of knowing how your life will end and the thought of not being around for those that love you. Lastly, if we don’t have pain in our lives, how can possible understand and enjoy joy? Think about it folks …

Over the last few years Harry Potter fans have been moaning about not knowing what happen when old Voldy is dead and gone. Never really bothered me with that series, but there have been others that I have asked the question about, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night being one such. To answer this Green says that nothing happens at the end of the book. The world and characters are all a figment of writers imagination and therefore cease to exist when the book ends. But then we find Phillip Joes Farmers’ River World series …

 

Reviewed by:

Ron Clark

Added 2nd December 2017

More Reviews By
Ron Clark

NO MAJOR SPOILERS

Much like anyone else, the first time I read this book I was in tears. The story of two teenagers with cancer who fall in love is a story which would move anyone. Yet I would be the last one to say that because a book moves you that it’s necessarily a good book. But because I thought that The Fault in our Stars was actually a very good book, I feel the need to defend it against censure. After reading a very negative review on Goodreads, I’ll try to voice my opinion about some of the issues the author of this review raised.

One of the things which appeared to be problematic, was the lack of verisimilitude of the book in general. While John Green undoubtedly writes a very good story with The Fault in our Stars, it was suggested that that’s all it really is – a good story. The things which happened in the novel weren’t likely, according to the author of the review, to ever happen in real life.

The first point of contention in this respect was dialogue. The dialogue between the two main characters, Hazel and Augustus, is characterized by various witticisms, biting irony and intelligent observations. It was suggested that teenagers simply wouldn’t talk like Hazel and Augustus do. Well, I beg your pardon. I hope it’s not too optimistic to hope that teenagers of this day and age are intelligent enough to carry on a witty conversation. It’s suggested right in the beginning of the novel that Hazel is quite a smart girl for her age, and both Augustus and Hazel have acquired, through their disease, a little something which many 50-year-olds can only guess at: wisdom.

Another problem with the dialogue seemed to be the fact that Hazel and Augustus talk exactly like each other. This is a problem, because many a textbook about basic writing skills will tell you that you should be able to distinguish between characters based on their utterances. I have two things to say about this. First of all, the fact that they talk like they do is what makes their chemistry so believable. In the beginning of the novel, when the dialogue is still preponderantly witty and funny (as opposed to mainly sad and depressing as the book progresses) it’s this likeness of speech which gives credibility to the author’s (obvious) implication that these two were meant for each other. They click. It’s as simple as that. Secondly, I think many a couple will agree with me that the longer you spend time together, the more you will start to sound, act and even think like one another. So it doesn’t seem unbelievable to me that within the context of a rather intense contact between these two, they start to take over each other’s speech mannerisms.

Something else the author of the review took umbrage at was the profuse use of metaphor. Hazel and Augustus, being two intelligent human beings, have quite a lot of those between the two of them, and once again the question arose whether this was something teenagers really do. The answer is yes, I really do think so. I can only speak for myself, of course, but I see metaphors everywhere I go, in real life. I’ll grant that in the book the metaphors are emphasized in a way they probably wouldn’t in real life (real life being messy and ambiguous), but this is exactly what gives the book its raw emotional character. Apart from their (Hazel and Augustus’s )obvious likenesses, metaphors are what bind them together, and their bond wouldn’t have been half so evident if those metaphors hadn’t been there. I don’t think that that’s unrealistic at all. I think it’s both true and beautiful.

With that out of the way, there is still the question whether the book is or isn’t ‘overly sentimental’. Anyone who read the book will agree with me that it’s a tearjerker, but what is it, exactly, which causes the tears? It is suggested that the author deliberately chose the subject of two cancer-patients in love to elicit fountains of tears, and that it doesn’t require much writing skill to accomplish this. But I don’t think that’s necessarily true. I believe that you could write this story in a very dry and stoic way, without much drama at all. And it would’ve been a completely different book. But it wouldn’t have been true to life. The truth is that cancer, particularly when it involves young people, is heartrending. Add young love to the equation, and I’m pretty sure that if the events narrated in the book had happened in real life, anyone would have been in tears. I don’t think sentimentality has got anything to do with that.

Lastly, I’ll say that any attempt at serious writing requires the careful balancing of remaining ‘true to life’ (not speaking about fantasy or science fiction, of course) and making it work ‘for the sake of the story’. I think that if you’d write down the average human life, it wouldn’t make a very good book at all. Which means that sometimes, a little tweaking is in order. The Fault in our Stars struck me as a very good story, because it had all the classical elements a story should have, and it left me feeling satisfied. Like there was a point to it all. Which is, after all, what we look for in literature, don’t we? Even if The Fault in our Stars seems rather unbelievable at some points, I’d like to raise the question, Why not? The sense of purpose and significance I found while reading the novel is often absent in our daily comings and goings. So why not. Why ever not?

 

Reviewed by:

Helena Gezels

Added 9th August 2015

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