Stoner by John Williams

Stoner - John Edward Williams

I don’t know where to start with this book. I went through a myriad of emotions, seamlessly flitting from one to the other, be it anger, frustration, sadness, pity, empathy or resentment. To be honest I‘m still feeling all those things, but I’ll have a go at making this review as coherent as possible.


As I’d mentioned before in one of my updates, I’d tried to read this book early last year but flung it aside when Stoner did or said something I didn’t agree with. I don’t know exactly what it was, but it pissed me off anyway. You see I don’t mind admitting that I was just a bit all over the place last year and frequently ‘threw the head up’ at certain things, even fictional characters. I reckon we’re all a bit like that here, though. I’ve come a long way in the past year and decided to accept this book for what it is, fiction, with a protagonist I might not always agree with, but can appreciate regardless.


Stoner tells the story of William Stoner who starts out at the beginning of the book by entering University. His father suggested he go to learn the new techniques in agriculture that are being used. He starts his degree then by studying agriculture as he fully plans to return to the farm on which he was raised and put his new found skills to use. He instead becomes drawn to literature and decides to divert from the study of agriculture to English literature, much to the dismay of his parents.


We then follow Stoner throughout his studies and become intimately acquainted with the trials of his life and career.


The narration was nothing less than perfect, with the description bringing a vibrancy to the narration that Stoner himself did not. The passivity on the part of Stoner was what I found most frustrating about the book and I was reminded, and continue to be, of the quote from Edmund Burke, which reads,


“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”


In his passivity Stoner may not have been the instrument of evil as such, but it was his lacklustre attitude that allowed it to happen, or at the very least continue. While it would have been my predisposition to feel only pity and empathy for Stoner previously, for very personal reasons I no longer feel that way. Of course, it would be impossible not to sympathise with Stoner, especially during the final stages of the book, but I had expected something more from him. He remained as he had been and didn’t evolve in the way that I had hoped. The characterisation, on the whole, was very well done. Every character brought an authenticity to the narrative and their presence felt as if they furthered the plot.


This was a master class in the structure of a novel and it’s pacing. Events played out at precisely the right moments to pique my interest and keep me reading. It’s a pity that Stoner didn’t evolve in the way I’d hoped, but what’s important here is how skilfully his life was portrayed.