Tuesday, 17 December 2013

An Abundance of Katherines


An Abundance of Katherines
John Green
London, Penguin, 2013, 227p

I adored The Fault in our Stars. I thought it was one of the best books of this year, recommended to me by my teenage brother and adored by every students I suggested should read it. An Abundance of Katherines has been met with praise by many John Green fans - and, in reading it, you can see why - but I am not as awestruck by this novel.

Colin has dated and been dumped by nineteen Katherines. He is a child prodigy, scared that he might not fulfil his expected potential, so sets to work to prove The Theorem of Underlying Katherine Predictability, in which he will demonstrate the inevitability of his being dumped. With his best friend, Hasan, the comically overweight sidekick, Colin sets off on a road trip on the day of his graduation from high school in the hope that maths can solve all his problems.

Oddly, I actually enjoyed the mathematical structure Colin attempted to assign to romance. I think there is some beauty in maths, especially when it is used to help someone get a better understanding on something their are struggling to process. Not only is Colin trying to get over a break up, but he is worried that he might not ever experience that eureka moment that all child prodigies dream of / are expected to have. The maths helps him process the turmoil of being an oddball teen.

The reason John Green's fiction is so popular is that it appeals to the awkward geek inside us all. Colin is an unconventional protagonist, outside the mainstream, claiming to not really understand or like other people. And yet, he overcomes social adversity to win friendships and hearts. Green's audience attach themselves to these unconventional protagonists, clinging to meaningful quotes and inspirational moments. One of these that has stuck with me is:
"...you don't remember what happened. What you remember becomes what happened"
This is something noted by Colin when he realises that he has misremembered one of his relationships, finally allowing him to get a better grip on his theorem.

The weirdest thing about reading this novel was that my name is Katherine, and with nineteen ex-girlfriends with the same name, Colin's story is slightly biased against them. Admittedly, none of them were particulary malicious break ups, but I couldn't help but feel a little bad about being a Katherine.

I did not feel as attached to The Abundance of Katherines as I did to The Fault in Our Stars, and I think this is because I started to notice the repeated tropes of John Green's writing. What makes him so appealing to some also makes him seem rather predictable to others. But there is some undoubtedly brilliant writing in this novel, particularly in a scene in which Colin finds himself in a cave with Lindsey, a girl he meets on his road trip. Here, everything is pitch black, and the scene is carried by the dialogue, which is shaped by the fact that Lindsey and Colin can't even see each other. Because of the lack of scenic description, it feels claustrophobic and tense, jumping back and forth between the two characters. And as the reader, you feel like you are right there with them, which is exactly what every reader dreams of.

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