Book Review: Stoner by John Williams
March 16, 2014 9 Comments
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