The Fault in Our Stars

“I’m in love with you, and I know that love is just a shot into the void, and that oblivion is inevitable, and that we’re all doomed and that there will come a day when all our labor has been returned to dust, and I know the sun will swallow the only earth we’ll ever have, and I am in love with you.”

John Green

Isn’t that a lovely way to start?

Now for the cynicism.

Unlike the rest of the world, it seems, I hadn’t actually heard of The Fault in Our Stars until Doctor Friend introduced me to the hilariously funny Vlogbrothers Youtube show (because you can never have enough opportunities for procrastination, that’s my motto), run by John Green and his brother Hank, who also scarily seem to own half the Internet but that’s another story. Anyway, the point of this little story is that Mr Green (both of them) mentions The Fault in Our Stars in every. Single. Video, usually in conjunction with the words “bestseller” or “top ten”. This is either rather naive or a cunning marketing ploy that, hey, actually worked. I know this because I am sitting here writing about The Fault in Our Stars.

The Fault in Our Stars is a cancer book. Its wry references to the conventions of the genre do not change the fact that it is a member of that genre. 17-year-old Hazel Lancaster has cancer and is basically depressed until she meets fellow 17-year-old Augustus Waters, who has had cancer and an improbably complicated emotional history involving, yes, someone else with cancer. So it’s pretty easy to see where this is going. Yep, you guessed it: they fall in love.

It’s a nice enough love story, I suppose. It’s funny, with a dry wit and a vague sense of irony underlying the plot. I did read it fast, because, to be perfectly honest, it’s easy to read, which is a real luxury for me: just being able to watch the story go past without having to think too much about the actual words. And, yes, it is sad, but you can see the ending coming a mile off. And not in a good way.

But what really annoyed me was the disparity between the relative sophistication of the characters’ dialogue and their behaviour. They say things like – to take an example picked literally at random – “It’s embarrassing that we all just walk through life blindly accepting that scrambled eggs are fundamentally associated with mornings”. Which is all very well, I don’t have a problem with intelligence, but they then go skipping off to Amsterdam – from America, I should add, and against medical advice – to ask their favourite author what happened to the characters in his book after it finished. Those are not the actions of intelligent people. Yes, go and meet your favourite author as your dying wish. But making such a fuss over what happened to Sisyphus the hamster, of all things? A fictional hamster? That seemed enormously childish, not to mention spoilt, to me.

I did enjoy this, though. I thought the characters were well-drawn and amusing enough to keep the somewhat hackneyed plot from being irritating, and Hazel and Augustus’ relationship was believable. I just don’t think it was amazing. I’ve read better love stories (The Time Traveler’s Wife is a good one with similar existential questions) and I’ve read better novels. But I am apparently the only person in the world who thinks this. (The average rating for this on Goodreads is 4.5 out of 5. 4.5! Nothing gets 4.5.)

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