“Stoner” by John Williams (1965) – book review

A very great friend who is married to a very great friend (let’s just call him “Mr P” for short) was reading this one holiday weekend, and I always like to fly along on his literary cuffs*, for he is a great source of jolly good books to read.

He commented wryly that he was enjoying it very much, although it was ‘hardly a bundle of laughs’, so not so long ago I too plunged into the world of William Stoner to see if I would share Julian Barnes’ unfettered enthusiasm and decision to make it his Book of the Year 2013 (was thoroughly engrossed by his article in The Guardian).

The book is undeniably depressing, but it is a BLISTERING read. Bit of a slow start, and of course – just like real life – not that much does happen over the years, but this book is poetry in motion.

Beautifully written, sensitive to the nth degree and a staggering portrait of one character in particular that really resonated with me. There is unmitigated resentfulness of a life that didn’t turn out the way Stoner’s wife had planned it, but above all it captures the essence of a loveless life where other people infringe even further on any potential happiness, and suggests that the one role where she could have succeeded well – that of mother – was one that held no particular interest for her at all.

Don’t want to spoil this book by talking about Stoner’s bid for true happiness, which is at the core of the novel in some ways – but it’s a nerve-crunching experience to follow his life and the choices made along the way, and highly worth weathering the aura of depression that pervades throughout.

It was one of my Top Reads of last year (thanks for the tip, Julian), and felt it had faint glimmers of the also brilliant “Revolutionary Road” by Richard Yates by moments.

“In his 43rd year, William Stoner learned what others, much younger, had learned before him : that the person one loves at first is not the person one loves at last, and that love is not an end but a process through which one person attempts to know another”.

And by damning contrast, the vision of Edith :

“Her face was set, her nostrils and mouth pinched, and she walked stiffly, angrily. He let himself wonder why she was angry; she had not been angry for a long time… ‘You weren’t going to say anything at all; were you? Thoughtless. Didn’t you think I had a right to know?’ ”.

When you get to this point in the book, the situation is such that you feel a knee-jerk reaction of pain. For me, a scintillating read.

Read in October 2014.

Rating : 10/10 – A FAVOURITE READ

Waterstones Book of the Year 2013

*P.S. I have a horrible tendency to mix my metaphors, and of course this one about flying along on cuffs turns out to be plucked out of absolutely nowhere. Looking quickly on Google, came across this very cute website, Idiom Connection, with every imaginable phrase you might ever want to correctly use to put the point across in vestimentary terms. Off the cuff, as it were … haha.

Image taken from here.
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8 Responses to “Stoner” by John Williams (1965) – book review

  1. lsalak says:

    I happened to read this book last week, on the recommendation of a young man who has Asberger’s Syndrome. He recommended it very highly, but because of his intellectual quirks I had understood it to be about a guy who was stoned all the time and made bad decisions. That book would have probably been of little interest to me. This one, however, I could not put down. A tiny bit defenstratingly depressing, but so beautifully written and, sadly, so accurate on the emotions and relationships portrayed.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi, I agree that the name of the book is misleading in that sense. And also agree wholeheartedly that it’s very hard to put down – you wouldn’t imagine a novel with so little ‘action’ would be so gripping, yet it smacks a punch to the gut. To pass this book by would be to miss out on something. Thank you for your comment and for following the blog. Nicola


  3. I’ve heard nothing but awesome things about this. I’ll have to check it out! Thanks for sharing! if you’re ever interested in some other awesome book reviews and musings, be sure to follow! Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I’ve been considering reading this for a while and you’ve basically just convinced me to buy it. Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Hi, I just peeked at your blog and see you have reviewed the Richard Flanagan book, which I just started yesterday. Enjoyed your comments – I see that you really enjoyed “The Luminaries” too, which I keep looking at but the size keeps putting me off. Should I take the plunge? Nicola


  6. Pingback: “Revolutionary Road” by Richard Yates (1961) – book review | Literary ramblings etc

  7. Pingback: “We Are Not Ourselves” by Matthew Thomas (2014) – set to become a classic | Literary ramblings etc

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