Book Review: Stoner

Stoner- John Williams
I'd seen a lot about Stoner before purchasing: There were reviews in every paper I picked up, it was promoted highly in the Waterstones "new books" section and it was hitting the bestseller lists. So it was a surprise when I opened it up and discovered that this novel was actually written in 1965. Basic research shows that the novel initially made little impact and quickly went out of print until suddenly, almost without any warning, it went stratospheric in 2013. With good reason, too.

Despite the name, and the fact it was first published in the 60s, Stoner has absolutely nothing to do with marijuana and is instead the name of our protagonist, William Stoner. Much like A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Stoner has no particular plot, and instead tracks Stoner through his life from a young farm boy working for his parents, to his career as a well-respected, aging English professor. Initially it reminded me very much of Of Mice and Men. Here we have a young American man working the earth, resigned to his life as a farm hand without questioning his diection. That changes when he goes to agricultural college and stumbles upon a love of English. Swept up in his passion for academia, he stays on as a teacher, then a professor and stays at the same university until he is forced to retire as an old man.
Throughout Stoner's life, he makes mistakes. He marries the wrong woman, falling for her looks and overlooking her lack of substance until it is too late. He falls in love with a junior teacher and begins a passionate affair that ends abruptly. A student with a vengeance teams up with a superior professor to make Stoner's work life miserable. However, throughout it all, Stoner remains stoic and calm. He continues to make his way through life almost stubbornly, refusing to play by the rules of others but also without creating issues. 

Ultimately, Stoner is a novel about the passage of time. Life goes on, regardless of our choices. By the end of his story, Stoner looks back and realises that he hasn't actually done anything. He hasn't made a difference, he hasn't changed the world. Life has passed him by without making any impact. It's hopelessly sad but, at the same time, rather beautiful and had me weeping on the train from its poignancy. 
A wonderfully written book but with a quiet subtlety that prevents it from becoming melodramatic, I am very happy about the sudden resurgence and thoroughly recommend it.

Buy Stoner here

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