Thursday, 22 May 2014

Review: Stoner by John Williams

Stoner: A Novel
John Williams

Since its re-release by Vintage in 2013, this almost forgotten novel has been everywhere. So much so that is has been hard to ignore and I had to add it quickly to my reading wish list. I have to admit that momentarily I did take the title at face value (come on, and you didn't?), but I stood corrected upon reading the blurb. Yes, Stoner is a  the main character's name.

Stoner recounts the life of William Stoner, an academic who faced disappointment at every turn. The novel starts with Stoner as he heads of to university to study Agriculture at the request of his parents (they believe it will help him when he takes on the family farm). During a compulsory English Literature class Stoner has what can only be called an epiphany and switches his major to English. So starts a love affair with the written world and his life in academia. But Stoner marries the wrong woman, is thwarted in his career, and loses the love of his life. It is an immensely sad novel but one that I think will stay with me forever.

  • At times I thought Stoner was a bit of a wet blanket (generally in relation to his horrendous wife), but overall it's safe to say I fell in love with him a little bit. 
  • His wife is seriously horrendous. I've never felt the urge so badly to reach into the book and punch someone's lights out.
  • This quote made me so sad: 'With wonder stoner realised she was crying, deeply and silently, with the shame and awkwardness of one who seldom weeps.'
  • So did this one: 'He went out of the office into the darkness of the long corridor and walked heavily into the sunlight, into the open world that was like a prison wherever he turned.'
  • This is quite a claustrophobic novel - it feels like Stoner is stuck in his prison-like world with no possibility of escape or happiness. There are tiny fragmentary moments of freedom though, which are so full of hope it makes the rest of it seem bearable.
  • This:  'In his forty-third year William stoner learned what others, much younger, had learned before him: that the person one loves at first is not the person one loves at last, and that love is not an end but a process through which one person attempts to know another.'
  • I loved the sections which talked about academia and English as a subject (this is an academic novel, I would say). They are detailed and fascinating and really demonstrate the author's passion.
  • The writing itself, completely separate from the content, is brilliant. It's hard to describe what is good about it but it is so open and engaging that you just sink in to it. I think it's a re-reader in that sense.
  • Stoner isn't really about anything. It is the story of a quiet, unassuming and wholly disappointing life but you do not want to stop reading. Who needs an exciting plot line?!
  • Stoner's antagonists (Hollis Lomax, Charles Walker and his wife, Edith) are skillfully written and his clashes with them are painful yet thrilling to read. This is where my wet blanket impression came in, but some of his later actions and reactions completely defy this label.

Considering how much I enjoyed this novel, I've found this an extremely difficult review to write (hence the brevity and bullets). It's hard to put my thoughts into words when my thoughts were not so much thoughts, but rather feelings. It's fair to say that I had an emotional reaction to Stoner. It made me unspeakably sad at points, chuckle at others, and feel enlivened at others. I'm glad it has been rediscovered because it is certainly not a book you would want to forget.

'Thus he found it possible to live, and even be happy, now and then.'

Have you read Stoner? If so, what did you think?



  1. Squee! I want to read it even more now, and I want this gorgeous Vintage edition.

  2. I've been on the fence about reading this one (even though the cover, as usual for Vintage, is LOVELY), but I think you might just have booted me off onto the 'Yes, read it!' side... :)

  3. I've heard of it (as you said who hasn't) and have even picked it up a few times in Waterstone's but never took it home with me. Maybe I should!

  4. Oh, I've just posted a review of a History of WW1 I think you'd like.

  5. Even though everyone has been reading this, I have apparently not read any reviews until now and still thought it was a drug book! OR, I did until I actually found it in a charity shop last week and realised that it wasn't so much that, so yeah. I'm welllllll excited to read it now though!!


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