Stoner by John Williams

Stoner by John Williams

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Stoner was first published in 1965, but its existence remained a mystery to me until a few weeks ago. Reading this book was such a profound experience that I wanted to reread it almost immediately after I put it down.

On the face of it this novel sounds plain and ordinary. The premise is simple- William Stoner enters the University of Missouri to study agriculture with the intention of returning to his parents farm afterwards and staying there. Instead, he finds a passion for literature and stays at the university to become a teacher.

The story begins at a plodding pace, matching the protagonists cautious, wary steps through university where he feels out of place compared to his steady unsurprising life at home on the farm. Around the 50 page mark however I found that I was completely sucked in. I couldn’t pinpoint when this characters simple story began resonating with me, but it became clear to me that I was wholly emotionally attached to William Stoner and his misfortunate life, and hooked on John Williams’ beautiful writing style.

Stoner’s aimlessness and seeming disinterest in life initially confused me. I couldn’t understand what motivated him as a man, or why he didn’t seem capable of expressing the relevant emotions to his life experiences. One paragraph changed this for me. After reading it, I felt like a light had been switched on and I was suddenly able to fully empathise with Stoner. I understood how much guilt he must have felt when deciding not to go back to his parents, and how this would have affected his enjoyment of his academic successes.

Once I had developed this emotional connection to Stoner the rest of the book was almost painful to read. Never has a man been more put upon and misfortunate in his personal relationships than William Stoner.

His wife Edith’s hatred of him for no apparent reason particularly annoyed me. After all of her attempts to wind up her husband failed, one of the hardest hitting parts of the book for me was when she turned her attention to Stoner’s close relationship with his daughter. For her to try so hard to destroy the one good personal relationship he had going really infuriated me and caused me a lot of anger.

Stoner is a classic, beautifully written history of a simple man’s life. The intricacies, heartache and love are all laid out with perfect clarity and reality, compassion and significance.

This review was first published on and Goodreads on 27th August 2013.

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