Stoner: A Novel by John Williams

Stoner John Williams

William Stoner entered the University of Missouri as a freshman in the year 1910, at the age of nineteen.

– Opening sentence

I won this copy of Stoner: A Novel from a Twitter competition by @vintagebooks, and have to admit I had unheard of it before then. Described by The Sunday Times as “the greatest novel you’ve never read”, I was excited to get started and delve into the mystery of this book.

Stoner follows the life of William Stoner, the son of a farmer born in Missouri in 1891. After starting as a freshman at the University of Missouri in 1910, Stoner quickly becomes an assistant professor of English and remains a teacher at the same university until his retirement in 1955.

A man with no particular talent or interests, apart from his love of literature, Stoner’s life is full of no particular achievement or accomplishment; he doesn’t leave behind any particular lasting impressions when he is gone and is isn’t particularly missed by a large amount of people. He has only two friends, a wife who cannot love him and a daughter who he is unable to save from his own mistakes.

Despite this, Stoner is an interesting character to follow, and the novel is written so beautifully in a way that makes this book particularly special.

I understand that Stoner could easily be called ‘boring’ by those who aren’t book enthusiasts, and even I, as I started to read it, was initially unimpressed with what I mistook as a slow start. However, as I continued to read, I started to realise the subtle genius of Williams’ work, and began to understand why the author wrote about the life of Stoner.

Everyone has a story – it might not be one full of adventure and drama; it might be full of mistakes and disappointments. Nevertheless, each single life has its own story, and the story of Stoner echoes the lives of many of us, although we perhaps wouldn’t like to admit it.

John Williams manages to craft together a life’s worth of ordinary, repetitive days into a story that is meaningful and easy to read, immersing the reader into another, if someone hazy, world and era. An under-appreciated author, and an under-appreciated novel.

I appreciate that is a rather short review compared to some of my others. But I think those who have also read this novel will understand. Stoner probably is “the greatest novel you’ve never read”.

The fingers loosened, and the book they had held moved slowly and then swiftly across the still body and fell into the silence of the room.

– Final sentence

4 Stars (4 / 5)