“Some infinities are larger than other infinities…”- The Fault In Our Stars
Originally, I had made plans to see The Fault in Our Stars with a friend. As anyone who has ever spent more than half of their life reading understands, sometimes you really feel the need to read the book before you see the movie. So, I spent between eight to sixteen hours (time is rather vague when you’re trapped between pages) voraciously pouring through this novel. I did so, partly to see why everyone was so obsessed with it; mostly to see if I too would fall under its spell; and mainly, so that I would be able to watch the movie with that superior air many readers wear upon hearing their favourite book has become a film.
I was stunned.
Stunned because it was so simple, and yet it was not–no Salman Rushdie this John Green fellow. Stunned because it felt a tad pretentious, as if it were trying too hard, and yet it was not–coincidentally, this is the sort of thing a certain Hazel Grace might have noted. Stunned because it was about death, and dying…and yet it was not. In the words of the story, “Some infinities are [greater] than other[s].” And in the case of this novel, the infinite presence of its aphorisms are far greater than its infinite hamartia.
Hamartia–the fatal flaw.
I have spent so much time musing, and contemplating the various impressions, and phrases which have resonated with me from this tale, that I’ve discovered my own hamartia. I’ve found the hamartia of my love. I’ve found the hamartia of my thoughts. I’ve found the hamartia of my reading. You could say I discovered the very essence of hamartia. Perhaps, I’m being hyperbolic, but hey, a girl has got to enjoy the one moment something from literature class (hamartia) actually develops some usefulness in everyday life. What I will say, is that every new thought led to another, and I felt a marvellous need to pick up a pen, or open a new document, or write a new blog post (ha) just to document my musings.
One of the first things I noted to myself, once I was finished, was that this novel was not what I expected. The story was no great epic; no Romeo and Juliet; or Othello, or Ramayana. In fact, it’s not even The Notebook. Yet, it would be unfair to judge the book against the contents of these wonderful works of literature. Primarily because this novel is life without its favoured euphemisms, or the larger than life issues that exist in the average literary masterpiece. It portrays life in the disillusionment which comes from having your greatest wish fulfilled. It walks upon the edge of life’s inevitability with the very real presence of death’s weight. The story trudges determinedly through mortifying humiliation, and children who are more adult than adults. Adult not in the sense of love, or responsibility, but rather with their lens of clarity which long-term suffering, that sets one apart from the rest of the healthy child to young adult population, creates. These characters, a small circle of cancer-ridden adolescents, are so beautifully involved in their love, that one cannot help, but dream with them. Unfortunately, neither they, nor we, are allowed to dream. Why is that?
Even at the very beginning of their developing affections for each other, I was left thinking that they had fallen in love too soon. Grown too fond too quickly. Skipped far too many stages of adolescent “love”, for me to take them seriously. And then, it hit me. These were not people with time. These were individuals who had seen mortality virtually every day of their diagnosed lives. Hazel Grace, and Augustus Waters could die that day, or three weeks later. Therefore, why in God’s name would they waste time with the usual overtures of adolescent dating? Where could they find the precious time to send coy text messages, or meet “accidentally” at a place they’d never heard of, much less seen? How could they sneak out after curfews to enjoy some time at a mutual friend’s party? How could they randomly bump into each other in the hallways at school, when the very idea of attending school carried so much weight? I’d say the words of Augustus Waters sums up the entire situation:
“I enjoy looking at beautiful people, and I decided a while ago not to deny myself the simpler pleasures of existence.”
Certainly not the most profound thing to have been said in this novel, but Augustus leaves a few words unspoken:
“I decided a while ago not to deny myself the simpler pleasures of existence [because there is no guarantee of extended time. There is no certainty that tomorrow, you, or I will be there to enjoy the little things that so many others take for granted.]”
When viewed in the context of their lives, it weighs as heavily as a live grenade in the hand. The grenade Hazel Grace fears she will be to those that love her. The grenade a certain someone turned out to be upon an inevitable surrender to death. Except, it wasn’t a destructive explosion which that someone left behind in the wake of loss; rather, it was an explosive revelation. The revelation that physical pain does not transcend love. That even the most torturous moments leave room for the gallows humour that can make one more day easier. That even death can bring a gift for the living.
In short, I understood it. Their rapid fall into a pure, less-infantile love than most display today made sense. We were given just enough to dream of love, but even in the act of loving, it was impossible not to see how little this was a dream. This was the raw courage of knowing that there could be loss at any moment. It was the contrasting vision of an oasis, woefully surrounded by the sands of the desert.
One could say that I fell in love with this book the way Hazel Grace fell for Augustus Waters, and his beautiful blue eyes:
“I fell in love with [it], the way you fall asleep: slowly, and then all at once.”
There are so many things I can say about this book, so many quotes I could post. I could rave about John Green’s sense of humour which runs rampantly throughout this book, both intentionally, and unintentionally (to be honest, I can’t say there are many ways that an illness like this can make anyone laugh, especially for people like me who have seen its effects on loved ones first hand, but by Jove, I laughed at so many places). Green’s stark contrasts of health, and illness; the varying degrees of being healthy we all take for granted; and his habit of prodding all the right places, do so much for the overall story. I can’t think of another novel about death, dying, illness, heartbreak, and the very real struggles of being both the “leaver” and the impending “leavee”, that offers such a balanced dose of moroseness, and sweet gratification.
This novel has “An Imperial Affliction“, and it is that you will fall prey to its hamartia. You will think, and you will muse. You’ll find yourself unable to fall asleep because you either can’t stop thinking about the book’s characters, or can’t stop musing over how any of the wonderful lines in there simply keep coming back to you over, and over again. Although you might think, “Well, this was a royal load of horseshit.”, you’ll remember the quiet wonder that comes from having that little “space” on the phone where only you, and the one you’re speaking to exists. You’ll notice things about death that you hadn’t noticed before. Though you’ll say, “None of this nonsense would ever happen in real life”, you’ll constantly remember that there was at least one part of this book, where you had “it”: that epiphany. That grandiose moment that returns over, and over again to haunt you, and remind you why you adore reading so much. I’ll simply end here, with one very teenage moment; nothing profound, or great, just two kids being kids:
“Do you have a Wish?’ he asked, referring to this organization, The Genie Foundation, which is in the business of granting sick kids one wish.
‘No’ I said. ‘I used my Wish pre-Miracle.’
‘What’d you do?’
I sighed loudly. ‘I was thirteen,’ I said.
‘Not Disney,’ he said.
I said nothing.
‘You did not go to Disney World.’
I said nothing.
‘HAZEL GRACE!’ he shouted. ‘You did not use your one dying Wish to go to Disney World with your parents.’
‘Also Epcot Center,’ I mumbled.
‘Oh, my God,’ Augustus said. ‘I can’t believe I had a crush on a girl with such cliché wishes.”
**Author’s Note: I tried to be as spoiler-free as possible. Forgive me if I wasn’t.