Stoner by John Williams

I got this book as it has been ‘rediscovered’ by the UK literati and promoted in the sort of radio programmes that discuss books. It is excellent – sad but also brave, in the way it looks unflinchingly at how disappointments can mount up across a lifetime and lead you to question the value of life itself.

It tells the story of William Stoner, a farm boy who goes to college from his poor home and becomes entranced by literature and, in time, the teaching of it. In that sense, it is a university novel – it is set in a university and the business of teaching and research is its metier.

But it is really a chronicle of a life, measured out across its span. The pace of the story is steady – it is not a novel about an episode, or a series of episodes, but a life. And I think that is really important because the slightly distant, dispassionate and non-judgemental style gives it the flavour of observation. Here is a life, it seems to say, not so different from other lives but still filled with pangs of pain and disappointment as well as occasional high points.

it is an unusual book – there is not much drama or excitement but it is still gripping, as one becomes bound up with the trajectory of the life one is, in a way, witnessing.

I recommend it highly.


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