Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Book #51 Stoner by John Williams


Length Of Time In Possession : Week and a half

Stoner, by John Williams published in 1965 has been experiencing something of a renaissance in 2013, finding itself suddenly acclaimed as a forgotten modern classic and rocketing up best seller lists all over the place. It was picked for one of my book clubs.

Stoner is the story of an ordinary man who lives an unfulfilled life, his narrow existence on a farm leads him unexpectedly to university where he discovers English Literature and enters teaching.

What one would expect then here is the uplifting story about the transformative power of literature in one man's life, but Stoner is very much not that book.

William Stoner is a nice man and a good man, yet his life though he escaped the farm remains narrow, unhappy, disappointing and unfulfilled, and academia proves his only refuge.

There are some nice moments of action, his dispute with fellow academic Hollis Lomax for example and the early stages of his relationship with Edith and his relationship with Katherine.

The most interesting and heartbreaking character is Grace Stoner, William's unhappy daughter with whom his special connection is deliberately sabotaged. There is a wonderfully written paragraph towards the end about her failure to blossom.

I found myself repeatedly furious with Stoner's apparent inertia and inability to turn his life around. The novel is inherently sad in fact I would go as far as to call it depressing.  As a reading experience I would probably compare it to is Bernard Malamud's The Assistant. Like The Assistant I didn't so much enjoy it as appreciate it on an intellectual level.

It's a tale which examines the ordinary man and the ordinary, slightly unrewarding life. I found it hard to understand the idea espoused at the start : that he was forgotten shortly after dying by all who knew him; given that his rivalry with Lomax achieved near mythic status at the university. 

Many things have been said about Stoner of late that it is a great book, that it is almost perfect that is a work of art, and perhaps it is all those things, but it's very sad and it made me sad and therefore I didn't like it very much. It made me miserable.

Verdict: 10/10 for the writing and probably 6 for enjoyment

Destination : Charity Shop

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