Welcome back! It’s been a while… So to herald a new blog post at last, I thought I’d write a cheeky review on John Williams’ ‘Stoner’. There are slight spoilers in the sense of relationships and my opinion on characters, but no critical plot spoilers and I definitely won’t ruin the end! I hope that you enjoy it x
Why I love the book as a whole…
Stoner by John Williams holds the account of William Stoner’s life between 1910 and 1956, he by no means sugar coats the experience. Williams leads the reader through Stoner’s start as an uneducated farmer, his ambition to be educated, difficulty in practising cohesively in community, marriage, family life, having a love of his work and retirement. This information does not really spoil reading the novel as the symbolism and contents of Stoner’s consciousness is really why you should read it.
Although from face value Stoner’s life seems very plain and ordinary, presented in a domestic style novel. Once finished, the reader has witnessed an incredible representation of the human condition. Too often do you read a novel that is far too idealistic, acting as a fantasy that the reader can indulge and envy. Rather than much of the realism you find in this work which you find cathartic and relatable, even if it is depressing. I wish that more novels would find a more believable balance of positivity, negativity and realism.
So what about the characters?
Understandably, a majority of the focus is on William Stoner and he is a good willed man, so ultimately he becomes your favourite and most prominent character. However, other characters such as Edith Bostwick, Grace Stoner, Archer Sloan, Katherine Driscoll, Gordon Finch, David Masters and Hollis Lomax play vital roles in how Stoner’s life pans out but also the reader’s experience. For example, the characters divide themselves into lovable and antagonist types; belonging to the former are Grace, Katherine and Gordon. The latter, Edith and Hollis. Although the balance is uneven, I personally felt the effect of the antagonists more than that of the lovable characters, which I suppose plays true to the idea of negativity bias in human beings.
I would find it difficult to believe anyone who says that they genuinely like the character of Edith. I would accept sympathetic feelings towards her, but her spiteful and hateful acts towards Stoner evoked only anger from me at first. By looking at her behaviour more analytically, I came to believe that in a way she is justified for her irrational behaviour. The circumstances of a woman of her class comes with massive expectations, she seemed to have a trauma and inconsolable anxiety that can only be the result of childhood repression of her sexuality and drilling of her duty as a woman.
And my fav…
I find it difficult to present an original reason for why Stoner is of course my favourite character, as I think in this aspect most readers are in the same boat. What I find notably brilliant about Stoner is his pure ambition early on in the novel as he builds his life upon a late start as a completely uneducated farm boy. Additionally, his intense sense of love and passion for others and more so his job as a teacher really attracted me to his character. Other than Stoner individually, my favourite aspect of the novel was his relationship with his daughter, they are perhaps the most endearing yet heartbreaking pair of them all. Their relationship stems from a wholesome and natural love between a father and his daughter. But with Edith’s growing hatred for Stoner, she causes a divide between the two which effected me quite personally.
Overall, I very much enjoyed the novel, while it could be slow in parts as really it is a record of Stoner’s consciousness and timeline, on the most part the insight into the tragedy and normality of his life is enlightening. I wouldn’t change the emotional agony it left me in because it would dim its overall effect. Because of this it seems a rather pessimistic account, but John Williams explains his intent clearly:
“I think he’s a real hero. A lot of people who have read the novel think that Stoner had such a sad and bad life. I think he had a very good life. He had a better life than most people do, certainly. He was doing what he wanted to do, he had some feeling for what he was doing, he had some sense of the importance of the job he was doing. He was a witness to values that are important…”
“… I think it boils down to what I was trying to get at in Stoner. You’ve got to keep the faith. The important thing is to keep the tradition going, because the tradition is civilisation.”
-Words of John Williams by John McGahern in ‘Stoner’. p.xiv
I would absolutely recommend Stoner, but it does depend entirely on the reader. If you are a fan of action pact or an ‘edge of your seat’ read then this is definitely not your cup of tea. For those who appreciate a novel for symbolism and its ability to be in touch with what it is to be human, then you’ll (hopefully) love Stoner.