Just read Stoner, John Williams

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Stoner by John Williams got a lot of attention earlier this year. It is not a new book, it was written in the sixties and recently reissued by Vintage Classics. Daunt bookshop sent it to me as one of the monthly fiction subscription books just at the time when reviews started popping up. The reviews were unusual, I thought, book reviewers don’t really have time to review all the new books let alone reissues so I thought it must be good.  Yet I didn’t think the story was really something I like reading about because it is about a man and his life in which nothing much happens. I’d picked Stoner up in early September or thereabouts, having just read a whole load of books where lots of things happened and I don’t think I was in the right frame of mind for it. I’d read about 50 pages then left it and got back into non-fiction, history reading for the course I’m doing.  Not long ago, a friend asked if I’d read it and I felt a bit guilty for just leaving it and also for saying that it wasn’t really the sort of book I liked. So I picked it up again two days ago, I felt calmer than I have in a long while, finally feeling the stress levels from work and study over recent months beginning to subside. I thought maybe Stoner and I could get on now. And we did, as soon as I picked it up again, something clicked immediately. This is a deliberately deceptive book, it is almost as if the author wants to put you off the story at the start by saying how nothing really happens to Stoner, the main character and perhaps compared to some other people’s lives, Stoner’s life is inconsequential but at the same time, it is a remarkably rewarding read. Beautifully written, very clever and life affirming. At one point, I thought it reminded me of William Boyd’s Any Human Heart, the life affirming thing, but where Boyd’s book is vibrant and vivid, Stoner has a quiet intensity no less gripping. I think it’s a wonderful book to read over Christmas holidays, blanket, fireplace (if you have it, I read most of it on the bus) and all that. I was very wrong to assume Stoner would be a bit dull and this is what I liked about the book the most I think – sometimes it’s good to persist with something you think you don’t like at first because you may be surprised.

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