Stoner by John Williams


Why was Stoner a ‘lost’ classic? Is it because it’s pared back and unobtrusive, sitting on the edge of collective consciousness?

William Stoner is an unremarkable man, who lives an unremarkable life. He goes to university and never leaves, becoming a professor. He marries, he has a child, he teaches. He is slow and considered, seemingly boring. Life goes on with highs and lows, and time passes. He dies.

That really is the extent of the plot. But the simplicity is so beautiful. For someone supposedly so boring, I cared so much for the ins-and-outs of his life. I cheered him on as he confronts academic politics (incidentally very funny). I cried when he loses the woman he loves and his daughter slips away.

It’s disquieting to see the intricacies and inner world of someone so opaque from the outside laid bare. And I mean bare; the prose is so simple, stripped back and powerful, academic prose excepted of course. I loved it.

So the next time you think back to an unobtrusive teacher or pass a woman you hardly notice on the bus, remember this book and the secret lives of other people.

Read: when you feel old and world-weary

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