I wanted to hate this book. I wanted it to be Twilight-eqsue, capturing the imagination of the young and crossover mainstream reading public in spite of the fact that it was okay rather than great. I wanted to get to the end of the book and feel superior in some way. I wanted to be able to hate this book. But I don’t. I can’t. Because it is a great book.
This is the story of Hazel and Gus and how they fall in love. Sounds cheesy, right? Sounds like it’s been done in young adult novels a hundred times before, right? Hazel has been diagnosed with terminal cancer. Gus is in remission but has had a leg amputated. Okay, a little less cheesy but cancer? So Jodi Picoult, right? Still been done before, right? Except even though the concept feels like it’s been done before, it’s never been done this well before.
The Fault in Our Stars is narrated in the first person by Hazel. I thought it only natural that since it was her story, she would be the one to die at the end of the book. Then I thought since she’s the narrator, she can’t be the one to die at the end of the book. In the end, she doesn’t narrate the end of the book. But don’t jump to conclusions about how the book ends. You have to read it to know. You have to go through the process of reading it, the process of absorbing these characters, to be justifiably rewarded with the ending. If you’re one of those people who read the last page of a book first, then you’ll do this book and yourself an injustice.
There’s a novel within the novel and that had the potential to be fraught with danger but in the end it’s perfect. It’s a novel about a girl with cancer that the main character of this novel about a girl with cancer has read and reread over and over. Hazel introduces Gus to the novel, which ends mid-sentence as the girl with cancer presumably dies or is physically unable to tell her story anymore. It’s infuriating and drives them on a journey to meet the author and ask him what happens next. It’s a perfect metaphor. No one can know what happens next after they die. But we want to. We want to know our family will grieve and move on, not so far that they forget us but enough to be able to continue existing with meaning in their lives. We want to know we will be remembered. We want to know that there was a reason for all this joy and suffering and happiness and pain.
Clearly, it’s not just a love story. It will make you think, as it made me think, about so much more than just love (just love, I say, as if that isn’t huge in itself).
The cover of the version I read was drenched in recommendations from other authors and the publisher had even included an extra page of recommendations, a glossy page that seemed like an afterthought after the book had been printed. Usually, when a book is so highly recommended, I am sceptical. But every one of them calling this book “perfect” and “elegiac” and “remarkable” and “touching” and “heartbreaking” and “poignant” and “important” and “a tour de force” is justified. I know when I read other reviews of this book I’ll find some that didn’t agree (because that seems to be the curse of writing and being read, that no one ever agrees one hundred percent) but this time I’m with the masses. And what a joy, a book that was great and that sold well.
I can only remember crying uncontrollably while reading two books and this is one of them (for parts of it anyway – the other book was The Bridges of Madison County). I didn’t want to cry. I knew it would be about death in some way, shape or form but I thought I was prepared for that. We never really are, though, are we?
So glad I read it. So glad I was wrong. So glad there is a writer of this quality in the world today creating books that tick all three boxes when it comes to producing a novel: writing, characters and plot. Tick, tick, tick. I’d hate to be the book that comes after it. For a while, at least, everything else must surely pale by comparison.
*First published on Goodreads 29 December 2015