WARNING – THE FOLLOWING REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR THE BOOK THAT I AM REVIEWING (and ‘V for Vendetta’)
by Rohan Gotobed
There are two annoying things about ‘The Fault in Our Stars’ (which will henceforth be known as TFIOS). The first is that it’s so good I feel forced to admire John Green even though he supports Liverpool Football Club (Man Utd are much better mate!) While the second is that the book will exist forever; therefore meaning that I will never ever be able to use my favourite book title for my own work. I admit that for the last day I have been articulating ‘The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars; but in ourselves’ in a slight Irish accent.
Before I read the book I already knew a fare much about it from my sister and other nerdfighters across the interweb: that it was very sad, that it was very funny, and that Augustus Waters dies. Though it would have been interesting to read the book without this information it did mean I could notice the clever pieces of foreshadowing that John puts in before Gus reveals that he is dying to Hazel (more on that later).
Hazel Grace Lancaster is a normal 16 year old girl – driving, drinking champagne and watching America’s Next Top Model – except from the added factor that she has cancer and an incurable lung problem. I love the phrase ‘cancer perks’ which is repeated several times throughout the book though I’m annoyed that I’m just as old as Hazel yet won’t be able to drive for another year. We meet Hazel ‘in the heart of Jesus’ which we return to later in the book. This is where she first meets Augustus Waters (and also where she says goodbye). I’m not going to lie; Augustus is pretty damn cool despite the fact that he speaks like the 11th Doctor after reading the complete works of Shakespeare and Byron. If I didn’t know better I would’ve had a hard time trusting Augustus as he did seem a bit too nice. However, this was solved a little as it turns out the original reason that he likes Hazel is that she looks like his dead girlfriend. (Not as romantic when I put it like that, is it?)
Isaac is also cool despite the fact that I think a novel based on his life could eclipse TFIOS on comedy and tragedy. His relationship with Gus is never quite explained but their friendship helps to flesh out Gus and prove that he’s not just being a nice guy for Hazel.
Hazel and Gus become good friends as John Green ruins the ending of ‘V for Vendetta’ and they also swap their favourite books. Looking back it’s now easy to see the inner workings of Augustus; in ‘Vendetta’ the main character sacrifices himself to save Natalie Portman (as any good man should do) whilst his favourite book series is about a soldier saving people and killing the bad guys. You don’t need to be a brain surgeon to see that Augustus is scared of dying before his time (something which I certainly connect with more than anything else in the book). The contrast between the boy and the girl is interesting. Augustus gets sad about himself and that his obituary won’t feature in the New York Times whilst Hazel, Harry-Potter-esque, is most concerned about damaging the people around her.
The main subplot of the book sees Hazel and Gus trying to meet reclusive writer Peter van Houten in Amsterdam so that he could tell them about what happens to some of the characters after the abrupt end of their favourite novel – ‘An Imperial Affliction’. Why Hazel couldn’t settle for an internet forum and other forms of online speculation means she has to steal Gus’ one wish to get them to fly to Amsterdam and meet van Houten. Augustus puts on a brace face and says that he’s going so that ‘they can spend time together’ or some such lie. I’m sure he’d much rather have got to go to a movie premiere or whatever.
Peter van Houten becomes the strangest, most annoying and coolest character of the novel. He is completely mad quite amusingly (knowing that Willem Dafoe of ‘Mr Bean’s Holiday’ fame was playing him in the film adaptation delivered a marvellous collection of images into my mind). Hazel vents her frustration towards him when it’s apparent that he’s an utter bastard. At this stage I was feeling the same emotions Frodo would’ve felt if he had reached Mount Doom to find the door locked.
Augustus and Hazel make the step from friends to special friends during a visit to the Anne Frank museum. Hazel thinks that the other visitors would be angry when they kiss there but the last guy to visit was Justin Bieber, inspiring the Dutch to applaud the act of love instead. (If you are Dutch, can you tell me if all Dutch people really are so nice? Hazel and Gus are very lucky that van Houten didn’t decamp to Slough after writing his masterpiece.
I didn’t cry when Augustus finally reveals that his cancer has returned to Hazel. Considering that they might have just had sex this seems like quite bad timing. However, this culmination of their love turning into a nightmare scenario must stun the unsullied. The book (which has previously been very light considering the subject matter) turns a bit darker as Augustus loses his Gusiness. It’s genuinely sad and moving watching this amicable person die slowly. The worst part is that he knows that he’s dying. Imagine seeing yourself shrink into a ghost when you are perfectly aware of what is happening and that he will never get his obituary and that he won’t get to die covered in glory.
The final act of the book is a slow funeral march. Augustus dies and Hazel goes through the grief that she was scared she would cause other people to feel. Van Houten stalks Hazel and goes to Indiana for the funeral. There’s one moment which genuinely made me fearful that John was about to plunge us into a world with Hazel doing an act of necrophilia but (thank God!) that doesn’t happen. The story leaves us with Hazel reading a eulogy which Augustus has written for her.
TFIOS is a very touching novel. Though this review hasn’t particularly taken the book seriously it is important to note that John Green has done a fantastic job in writing a story that makes you laugh and makes most people cry whilst establishing and developing very memorable characters in just over 300 pages. In the last fortnight, either side of ‘The Silkworm’ I have read two books released in 2012. Gone Girl and The Fault in Our Stars. They are both completely different books but I loved both and both made me think a