Friday, 18 July 2014

The Fault in our Stars (and why I'll read "girl" books if I like)

The buzz surrounding the movie made me aware of this book and of the fact it was written by John Green. I feel acquainted with Green in an almost personal way because of his blog, Mental Floss, in which he talks to camera in a Movie Trailer Guy voice, making fun from science, etymology, myths and other nerdy stuff like “600 years of slang terms for sex”. It’s one of my favourite sites when I’m bored and need to wake my brain up for three minutes or so.

(It turns out his YouTube site vlogbrothers is even more popular.)

Based on his smart-arsed turns of phrase and encyclopaedic knowledge of the arcane and nerdy (he actually wrote a four volume dictionary of slang) I thought I’d give The Fault in our Stars a go.

The problem was, when I started reading I had trouble getting his face out of my mind, which isn’t exactly what you want when the narrator is Hazel, a seventeen year old girl.

Fortunately, Hazel’s voice is so strong that within a couple of paragraphs it dominates any vestigial images of a forty year old man. That voice really is the core of the novel and no doubt why so many people love it.

Its other strength is our weakness for tears. When I bought the book, the assistant warned me to reconsider as it was very sad. Maybe it’s only teenage girls who are allowed to cry over a fictional character? I enforced my equality by buying the book and rushing home to read it right away. (But I avoided reading it on the train – it’s one thing to cry, quite another to do it in public.)

Honestly, you’d have to be a bit dim to think a book about two teenage lovers with cancer might not have a few sad bits. But Hazel’s narration gives us a roadmap of all the usual emotions we’d be expecting to feel as a reader, and does her best to usurp them.

It is sad. It’s also funny, engaging and just a little bit depressing. I’d recommend it to most everyone, but not necessarily if you were in Hazel’s or her parentssituation. Mainly because it does delve into some of those areas you might not want to face until you really have to.

[Backing up that thought, this article by stage four cancer suffer, Mark Juddery (left), confirms that's pretty much the way he feels. 

Follow him on Twitter, he's pretty funny actually. And what's more, he also contributes to mentalfloss.]

As a postscript, I was talking to a young woman at work who asked what I'd been reading and when I said TFIOS she looked shocked, telling me it is a girls' book. 

Well, I said, puffing my chest out and trying to look macho, I didn't cry, despite the many sad bits that would have most girls bawling their eyes out.

In the end we agreed there's nothing wrong with men reading "girls" books, and even that it would be acceptable to sneak into the cinema and watch the movie, though it would be best to take a female with me as cover, lest I be considered a girlie man.

(On second thoughts, stuff it. I'll go wearing a dress if I want!) 


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