Imagine the scene. I’m sat on a train for at least 4 hours, it’s 7am and there’s isn’t enough coffee on board this train to keep me awake, nevermind if I could afford a single cup. Crack out John Green.
The Fault in Our Stars had been sitting on my shelf waiting for me to have a few hours to dedicate to it’s charm. I’ve followed Vlog brother online for a few years on and off, and I’ve spent my fair share of time on tumblr, so I was already familiar with his style. What I wasn’t prepared for was to sit in a carriage full of strangers as I laughed out-loud, sighed with happiness, sighed with sadness and actually cried.
If tumblr ever sprouts fingers, it’d write this novel. It is positively saturated in internet speak. In a similar way to A Visit from the Goon Squad, The Fault in our Stars submerges the reader in the modern world in a way that is honest and real. As a writer I often find it hard to equate the silent ring of a smart phone in my pocket to the vibrations of a lark in the morning sky. Somehow this novel achieves all of that and more.
I work in secondary schools, and when I see children reading this I’m smugly proud as it managed to be poignant in a new, debilitating way and also be an easy read, this is a subtle novel that eases you in to some very deep poetically constructed scenes. Hazel in particular is a lovely round female character, yes she has her flaws but it is lovely to see how she reacts to the pressure of society around her, it comforts me to assume that these flaws are the work of self-aware writer and not accidental prejudices – such as the still perpetuated distinction between ‘Boy’ and ‘Girl’ activities. Knowing John Green’s work I assume this is the strong voice of Hazel, to be honest, at times I hate Hazel. But these emotions are real, the connection I made to the characters is honest and involuntary.
Initially I was skeptical of the longevity of the plot, but Green is well aware of where he is taking these characters – a long emotional roller coaster definitely lies ahead. Unfortunately most of the best ‘lines’ and scenes are within the first half of the novel, as the plot speeds up the inevitable happens in an unsuspected way which is charming at best. by the latter half of the novel the novelty is wearing thin, common devices start to melt away, I’m glad the novel is around 300 pages, as any longer and I think it would have been grating. I am wary of reading more of Green’s novels in case these are his show ponies in their entirety; but there is only one way to find out.
I do think this is a modern masterpiece, it is beautiful to see writing mimicking real life and encouraging us to engage with it artistically. I haven’t seen the film.