It’s quite rare to come across a book with which I’m so enthralled that I deliberately take my time reading it. More often than not, if I’m enjoying a book, I’ll read it at every given opportunity, desperate to find out how it finishes. With Stoner, however, the 1965 classic by English professor John Williams, I purposely read it at a snail’s pace; delaying its inevitable end.
Up until recently I had never heard of Stoner; first published in 1965 it received one favourable review by the New Yorker before fading into obscurity and within a year it was out of print. However, having since been re-issued by Vintage, its enjoying something of a second life, being heralded by some as a lost classic.
The novel has an unremarkable subject matter which perhaps goes some way to explaining its initial demise; put simply the novel tells the story of William Stoner, who, like the book’s author is an English professor. Stoner lives a quiet, banal life; he marries the wrong woman and often encounters conflict at work; but nothing so extraordinary that will cause him to be remembered after his death.
Thus, what makes such an ordinary life such an extraordinary novel is the prose that lies therein; rich, terse and engrossing, the novel is told with both internal depth and subtle emotion. An utterly, utterly, beautiful read, Stoner is easily one of the best books I have ever read. Finishing it was inevitably bittersweet.