12 Books of Christmas – #12 Stoner – John Williams

ImageTwelves days and twelve reviews and I’ve got to admit, it was much tougher than I expected!  It wasn’t just writing the reviews, I’d forgotten how tiring (but enjoyable!) it is working in a bookshop in the weeks leading up to Christmas.  One more shift to go before  Jane and I get a well deserved day off and for anybody looking for a last minute recommendation on Christmas Eve, ‘Stoner’ will definitely be in there.

I’d like to be smug and say that I read this ages ago but I didn’t, I totally jumped on the bandwagon with this one.  I was a bit slow to get round to reading it though,  I remember hearing the Ian McEwan quote about it being his perfect summer read and made a mental note to read it but it wasn’t until we were selling huge amounts of ‘Stoner’ and it then being shortlisted and winner of the ‘Waterstones Book of the Year 2013’ that I finally got round to reading it.

One of the very few complaints I have heard about ‘Stoner’ is that nothing really happens but that is the point, the fact that it has such a subtle narrative and is still for want of a better phrase, a real page turner, is what makes it all the more clever.  The book opens by telling us that years after the death of titular character William Stoner, he will only be remembered as a name in an old academic book.  Stoner’s entire life is a constant battle but at the same time completely unremarkable. To begin with Stoner carries a life-long guilt after leaving the family farming business whilst pursuing his beloved academic career.  He regretfully marries hastily and is a disappointment to his wife (and she to him), she pushes him mentally and uses their daughter against him.  It is in his career that Stoner seeks to succeed but even there he is beaten down by bullying colleagues and work life is as bad as home life.  In a desperate and hopeless love triangle, reminiscent of Edith Wharton’s ‘Ethan Frome’,  Stoner begins a doomed affair with a younger student.  For the first time in the book since his daughter was small, Stoner is happy and somebody is happy with him and you really want him to step up and do something and change his life.  It’s at this point you realise that it is neither in Stoner’s character and although this book is new to me, it isn’t a new book and throws up further issues.  With the majority of the story taking place in the interwar years, things were much different, it would be unseemly for Stoner to leave his needy and vulnerable wife and child and I can not force my modern day mentality upon Stoner.

It probably sounds like ‘Stoner’ is an utterly depressing read, but it’s not.  Whilst by the end you will probably feel a little choked up, you will be glad to have spent time with Stoner and taken time to listen to his story and in the same way you’ll be glad that you’ve taken time to read John Williams’ book and give the author the attention he really deserves.


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