Thursday, 29 August 2013

Stoner by John Williams

review by Maryom

William Stoner enters the University of Missouri at nineteen to study agriculture. A seminar on English literature changes his life, and he never returns to work on his father's farm. Stoner becomes a teacher. He marries the wrong woman. His life is quiet, and after his death his colleagues remember him rarely. Yet with truthfulness, compassion and intense power, this novel uncovers a story of universal value. Stoner tells of the conflicts, defeats and victories of the human race that pass unrecorded by history, and reclaims the significance of an individual life. A reading experience like no other, itself a paean to the power of literature, it is a novel to be savoured.

Stoner is one of those old-fashioned 'cradle to grave' stories of a farm boy who leaves home for agricultural college, accidentally discovers the beauty of English literature and abandons farming for an academic career. Originally published in 1965, it's out again in a new edition from Vintage Books and being promoted on Twitter with the hashtag #weareallstonersnow - which is how I discovered it.

This turned out to be an oddly compelling read. I say 'oddly' because it isn't an all action thriller that you need to read through the night to find out if the hero saves the day, or a romantic weepie where you need to reach the happy ending, but a quiet tale of a scholar, his set-backs, both in private and academic life, and the constant joy he finds in his work. It's difficult to pin down what exactly the charm about the novel is; Stoner's life isn't one of blissful happiness or high achievement so it didn't really ought to fall into the 'feel-good' category but somehow it does. I think you really need to try this for yourself to discover its appeal.

Maryom's review - 4 stars
Publisher - Vintage
Genre - Adult Literary Fiction

 Buy Stoner: A Novel (Vintage Classics) from Amazon

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