“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

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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