By Riya Kuruvilla
Another typical romance novel? One would think so, with the title of the book “The Fault in our Stars”, by John Green – reminiscent of a “star-crossed lovers” Shakespearean romance. Technically, of course it can be categorized as a romance novel; however it is so much more. Hazel Grace is a ‘successful’ cancer test drug survivor, attached to an oxygen tank to stay alive. Her haunt is her house and inside her favourite book ‘An Imperial Affliction’ – all she does is read it, eat a little, sleep and have musings about death. I would say, quite unhealthy for a teenager, but quite predictable for a terminally ill cancer patient.
Hazel’s mum begs to differ, and off she was sent to the doctor and diagnosed with cancer induced clinical depression and sent to a support group featuring “a rotating cast of characters in various states of tumour ridden unwellness. Why did the cast rotate? A side effect of dying”. This novel throughout is sprinkled with such dry humour. Sometimes you would think that if such were spoken aloud in a room, completely inappropriate as it is, to be said in front of a cancer patient. However, it’s done so skilfully that we realise the point Green is trying to communicate – we are so caught up in handling with care the supposedly fragile creatures that cancer patients are, that we hurt them with our barbs of unnecessary attention and care. Sometimes, all they want is to be normal. They become so used to their illness, that death is part of their routine. Eat, sleep, and think about death. That’s where Hazel’s humour regarding her situation comes from. They’d rather not have someone make so obvious something that they’re already so painfully aware of. Sympathy from others is simply more to add to their already heavy burden of pain.
From where begins the romance you ask? Hazel Grace meets Augustus Waters a friend of a fellow support group member, and a cancer survivor with an amputated leg, and that is where their story really begins. “A Walk to Remember” by Nicholas Sparks a novel you may have read and even watched (starring Mandy Moore and having that lovely song ‘Only Hope’) would be more characteristic of the slightly less dimensional typical ill-fated cancer romance. The equation really changes when both parties have or have had cancer.
More so than the type-cast confusing teenage romance, (coloured of course by the cancer) the combined musings of two individuals, pruned into mature thinkers by their respective illnesses is the most striking thing about this novel. Augustus’ love and obsession with metaphors, a particular related quirk being ‘smoking’ an unlit cigarette and Hazel Grace’s obsession with the novel “An Imperial Affliction” and the fate of its characters are what seem to represent their personalities. Augustus is an unlit cigarette and Hazel an unfinished-finished book. You will also find a bucket-load of dramatic irony, not even the most expected kind of irony (paradoxical, I know), which is not for me to reveal in case you want to read the book. And of course someone dies; it’s about cancer, after all! After reading this book, one can never look at cancer or romance in the same way.
In a nutshell, for people who like to contemplate on life – it is a story of people who are in a long limbo between life and death, their views on their own situation, how they think of people in the categories of “alive” and “dead” and how their illness has shaped them and the people around them.