Book review: Stoner by John Edward Williams

John Edward Williams


Title: Stoner

Author: John Edward Williams

Publisher: Vintage. Random House

Publication date: 5th July 2012 (NB: first published in the UK, 1973 by Longman)

Why did I choose to read this book? According to Julian Barnes (who I love) this was the ‘must-read’ book of 2013. So after the madness had settled I decided to go rogue and read it at the beginning of 2014.

Where to read this book? Embrace your inner bookworm at the boutique Library Hotel located in the centre of New York. Enjoy reading Stoner in the rooftop writer’s den and poetry garden which in the evening transforms into Bookmarks Lounge, a unique bar offering literary inspired cocktails coupled with inspiring views of New York City.

Refreshments: Aside from the aforementioned literary cocktails? This isn’t really a book that inspires much in the way of eating, its depressing tone makes you want to hit the bottle my bottle happened to be rum accompanied by spicy ginger beer. Feel free to join.


William Stoner enters the University of Missouri at nineteen to study agriculture. A seminar on English literature changes his life, and he never returns to work on his father’s farm. Stoner becomes a teacher. He marries the wrong woman. His life is quiet, and after his death his colleagues remember him rarely.

I feel a bit like the cheese stands alone writing this review because at the risk of being castigated from the literary, publishing and Julian Barnes appreciation society I just didn’t really get it. I thought it was written well, although I did find myself skimming pages at times, and the characters provoked a reaction but it just plain depressed and irritated the hell out of me – or was that the point?

Stoner, he has one main and many fleeting loves which in large part end in failure. His relationship with a graduate student provides brief respite only to be dashed into submission. However the central love running through the story is quite obviously that of literature. His future is cemented after attending a sophomore English literature class when his teacher diagnoses: “You are in love; it’s as simple as that.” His study turns into a life-long academic career achieving ups and downs but no true success beyond one published book. His aspirations are limited and his social behaviour is lacking, he is in a nutshell a vaguely depressing average Joe, and in a way a study in self-help not to end up like him.

Edith his wife, god give me strength she needs a slap (apologies) but she really is possibly the most irritating villain in literature. There’s no explanation for her bi-polar behaviour, I feel like if it was a Jane Austen novel she would be described as ‘delicate.’ She succeeds in making ‘willy’s’ and their daughter’s life a misery whereby they’re walking on egg shells resulting in a failed and frustrated family life.

Overall I didn’t really enjoy reading this book. It wasn’t a bad book it just wasn’t my cup of tea. I suppose a story describing a life of failure and of only fleeting happiness was never going to be a wholly fun experience but even the most stressful of subjects usually manages to engage my interest. Stoner was the unexpected bestseller and must-read of 2013 and now I’ve read it, like 2013, I can relegate it to the past and move on.

Rating: 5 out of 10


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