Book Review: Stoner by John Williams

Stoner by John Williams

This is the Dutch cover you see here. I put it here or I’ll forget what the book was like. I judge by cover, I remember by cover.

I didn’t particularly want to read this hyped-up book. Yes, this 1965 novel is having a great time in 2014 Netherlands (see also Julian Barnes’ article about the revival of this book in Europe). I don’t particularly like the cover, although it was chosen as one of the (of not the) best covers of (some year, probably) 2012. I could not imagine how this boring story could be a good read. Nah!

But my book group wanted to read it, so I thought, well, okay then… Sigh.

Stoner: What it is about

The publisher says: “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: What I thought

I eat my hat and swallow my words! This was a fantastic book. Why? Erm… I’ll explain in a while.

Really, the book also was what I thought it was: rather a boring story in the sense that not a great deal happened. Somehow I loved it anyway. The main character, Stoner, quietly lives his life, but admittedly, there are a few hiccups that make the book interesting. There is the fact that he comes from very poor farmer parents and his wife is a miserable woman. She makes his home life a misery, while at work at the university, his boss is doing his best to achieve the same goal.

I guess what makes the book great (we discussed this in book group), is that Stoner lets everything happen without complaining, keeps his head high, has his principles and sticks to them, no matter what other people say. From his humble beginnings, he must have got the attitude that you can’t change your destiny, you just have to take whatever life brings you.

His wife is a total nightmare. Even when they were dating, it was obvious that she wasn’t a good match for him, and soon after they are married, Stoner knows he made a mistake. His work at first is going well, but because of his strong views and principles, he antagonizes his boss, who then makes his working life as difficult as he can.

I loved the academic setting, having studied and worked at universities myself. Not a great deal happens in Stoner’s life, but it’s written so well and the characters are so interesting, that this quickly became a 5-star read for me.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars (very good)

Number of pages: 320

First published: 1965 (my Dutch copy, Stoner: 2012, translated by Edzard Krol)

I got this: from a local bookstore

Genre: contemporary fiction


About Leeswammes
I'm owner and editor at In my free time, I read and review books on my two blogs, Leeswammes' Blog and De Boekblogger.

9 Responses to Book Review: Stoner by John Williams

  1. JannyAn says:

    I enjoyed the book a lot as well. We talked about in our book group. Some thought of Stoner as a weak character. He knew his wife was a nightmare, as early as they were dating. So why on earth did he marry her?

    • Leeswammes says:

      Janny, good question. I think he had no idea what women were like, especially “rich” women like her. But yes, on the one hand he was a weak character but on the other, he was very strong and stubborn in his beliefs.

      Our book group all loved the story, did yours?

  2. Denis Stirler says:

    Reblogged this on Denis blogt!.

  3. Care says:

    Interesting! I loved that you shared your initial hesitation and why/how it became a good reading experience despite you thinking it would be boring. I have had this on my tbr but don’t remember who inspired me to put it there. I might have to move it up the list and maybe recommend it for my club.

    Did you get a piece of pie?

    • Leeswammes says:

      Care, I didn’t get any pie, but I was happy to read your blog and see the pie-happenings on facebook and twitter.

      Yes, I suggest you try this book asap. I’m pretty sure you’ll love this.

  4. Trish says:

    I’m absolutely intrigued by this one but can’t figure out why I’m just now hearing so much about it when it’s been published for years and years! I guess I should read the Barnes article. LOL! Maybe I’ll recommend this one to my book group. Sounds like one I would really like–though I agree that the cover is a turn-off.

    • Leeswammes says:

      Trish, I don’t know exactly what happened but this book was republished in Europe (I think it was France first but maybe even the Netherlands) and it went from there. It would make a good bookgroup read.

  5. Isi says:

    This book caught my eye when I was in London in December, but in the end I bought other 6 books, but not this 😉
    Now I regret it!!!!
    Sure I will read it.

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