STONER by John Williams (Vintage Books, 2003)
First published in 1965 and then largely forgotten, this remarkable novel is nothing short of a masterpiece. I want to press into the hands of everyone I know and tell them ‘you absolutely must read this’. The book’s belated word of mouth success illustrates I am not alone.
The opening page gives fair warning that this will not be a story of heroism or valiant deeds. Instead, it charts the life and death of William Stoner, a professor at the University of Missouri who achieved no high rank and was not generally regarded with any great affection. “Stoner’s colleagues, who held him in no particular esteem when he was alive, speak of him rarely now; to the older ones, his name is a reminder of the end that awaits them all, and to the younger ones it is merely a sound which evokes no sense of the past and no identity with which they can associate themselves or their careers”.
This introduction might make you think this will be a bleak, even depressing read but I came away from it profoundly moved by its humanity and compassion. I have read reviews that describe Stoner as a failure but this also gives a false impression. It’s true that he did not fulfill all his ambitions but his life was not without achievement nor devoid of meaning. Continue reading