Well, it has been sometime since I last sat down to write a review. It appears that I have spent the last year reading more books than writing their reviews, and for this I slap my own wrist. For a while I was very busy and I must admit that writing had been usurped of its top spot in the hierarchy of my priorities. And yet, despite this, upon uncovering the sheer beauty and brilliance of John Williams’ ‘Stoner’, I had no other choice but to explore my findings and feelings of a book that the Sunday Times has labeled “The Greatest Novel you’ve never read”. I concede that to begin with I had my reservations but Williams wasted no time in robbing me of my cynicism and presenting me instead with the refreshing universality of ‘Stoner’, minus the egotistical protagonist that usually accompanies such works.
William Stoner attends the University of Missouri at the age of nineteen and commits himself to the study of Agriculture. Upon the completion of his studies, Stoner stays on and moves onto his PhD whilst teaching at the university. As his closest friends David Masters and Gordon Finch sign up to fight during the war, Stoner is left to question his own reluctance to do the same. This is intensified by a wave of regret that sweeps over him upon hearing of the death of Masters by which time he is yet to marry the wrong women, Edith Bostwick. The marriage is a proverbial car crash and Edith’s manipulative control of their daughter Grace frustrates and depresses Stoner until he desperately seeks the attention of a beautiful female PhD student, Katherine with whom he begins an impassioned love affair.
But when a troubled relationship with a student returns to haunt Stoner, deceit, blackmail and betrayal play their part in a cruel twist that means Stoner has everything to lose. Combined with his ongoing political struggles at the university and his inability to excel in sociality, Stoner’s life takes a tragic turn that renders the reader hopeless and hopeful simultaneously.
Stoner, as a novel, has everything that you expect to see in literature that has been labeled as ‘a classic’. Williams writes with an integrity that captures the heart and soul of an unorthodox male protagonist and his sometimes-awkward approach and creates a compelling narrative because of this. A story about everything and nothing, Williams highlights the subtlety of human life and all of its frail idiosyncrasies; romance, tragedy, wisdom, love, philosophy, duplicity, education, compassion and truth. A truly absorbing and convincing read for anyone who loves literature.
Readability: (4/5) The novel can actually dawdle in sections and yet you find that your fingers are consistently itching to turn to the next page. The Chapters are perfectly placed and allow for long sittings or a quick read through a part of Stoner’s life in-between everything else your doing. As mentioned, Williams’ writing style is captivating, making the novel a pleasure to read.
Drawbacks: (4/5) In places you can feel as though you’re waiting for the catastrophe, the volta, the big twist or turn. But I’ll inform you now that you’ll be waiting indefinitely. Stoner isn’t about dramatic or explosive plots and story lines. It’s something I like to call a ‘real’ text. I personally prefer this, but others may find this unsatisfying.
Overall: (4/5) For me, Stoner offers a brilliant insight into the magnificence and misfortune of life, capturing perfectly formed humility and unpretentiousness in a form that is so pure its borders reality. A terrific novel by a sophisticated writer, which is worthy of its title as a triumph of literary endeavor.