I dig tragic stories so much that I was unable to complete the 100 happy days challenge. What can I say, I find myself incapable of being happy about a slice of pizza.
I have lived, laughed and cried with Emma Morley and Dexter Mayhew in One Day. That book is An Imperial Affliction for me.
I thought that the same would happen while reading The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. It is a story of two Cancer afflicted teenagers who fall in love but more than that, it is a story of their lives, their families and friends and how they REALLY feel while fighting this disease while discussing the side effects of dying. It gives the other cancer afflicted patients the comfort that they aren’t the only ones out there and that that their lives aren’t just a failed experiment in mutation, a phrase that the drunkard novelist, Van Houten uses in the book.
But 114 pages and 7 chapters through the book, I found myself to be unimpressed by Green’s writing, unable to connect with the characters, found the humor to be too pushy and pop cultural references too bleak. (I still hold a grudge for the way V for Vendetta was used.)
The only thing that got me through those pages was Augustus putting a cigarette between his teeth but not lighting it.
“It’s a metaphor, see: You put the killing thing right between your teeth, but you don’t give it the power to do its killing.” (This was BRILLIANT!)
But something magical happened after the eighth chapter and through the canals of Amsterdam. I fell in love with the book the way you fall asleep, slowly and then all at once. I found the use of Magritte’s “Ceci n’est pas une pipe.” (French for “This is not a pipe”) quite excellent. (Magritte is a personal favourite and I am too biased, yes.)
Moreover, Shakespeare’s quote: “For who is so firm that cannot be seduced?” was like cherry on the top. It made my belief in good writers grow; the ones who read are the ones who write ever so beautifully drawing on the wisdom of the world while baring their souls. (Yup, I can write quotes too.)
It showed that Green believes in learning from the world and is a fan of literary devices (Hi5, there!). The title itself, (as numerous people have pointed out) is taken from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar- “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.” The beautiful thing about the title is that it contradicts Shakespeare’s quote while implying that it might even be true- The fault is in the stars. But the cancer is in the genes. You only believe what you make of it.
I began to like Green’s writing during the second half of the book and was able to connect with Hazel because of her love for one book that she felt was closer to her reality, An Imperial Affliction. I gasped at every moment during the journey that they took to meet the author, Van Houten all the way to Amsterdam only to be disappointed by the rude and drunk man that Van Houten was. The scene at The Anne Frank House was fresh and bold. They kissed in a room full of strangers while Otto Frank is talking about Anne in a video saying, “ ..that most parents don’t know really their children.” I don’t know any writer who could pull off such an awkward moment with ease.
He won me over again with the one sentence description of Amsterdam- “Amsterdam is like the rings of a tree. It gets older as you get closer to the center.”
The very charismatic and flawless Augustus who kept on his charm throughout the book flicks for a second while opening the door to his room to lead Hazel in and tells her about his stump. That was my favourite moment. I will not spoil the book for others by quoting the dialogue here.
But the book had me when Augustus explains the relapse of cancer in his body: “I lit up like a Christmas tree, Hazel Grace. The lining of my chest, the left hip, my liver, everywhere.” Everywhere.
What I had avoided after two hours into the book, I finished in the next three. I simply didn’t want to put the book down.
What left me mesmerized was the end of the book- Hazel Grace’s eulogy written by Augustus that was being read by Hazel Grace herself.
The end is beautiful and significant as the author leaves a hint. Ending the book with the eulogy means that he is bidding adieu to Hazel since the book is through her point of view but at the same time, it is Hazel reading her own eulogy before her death. It is not to confuse the reader but to make them understand that it doesn’t matter how Hazel Grace died. What matters is how she lived her life with her choices while being completely convinced that the only lives worth living aren’t the ones who leave a mark on the world. In Gus’s words: “Since the marks humans leave are too often scars.”
Alas, this book did not make me cry but it made me laugh, A LOT. That is where the triumph in Green’s writing lies; that he makes you laugh even in the face of a tragedy. He would make an excellent protégé of Shakespeare.
I will reread the book for the intelligent conversations and the beautiful quotes and I leave you to ponder over one such quote.
“Writing does not resurrect. It buries”