Stoner, by John Williams

It hardly matters what I write about this book, for words will invariably do it an injustice. Stoner is a testament to the power of prose, its deliberate understatement providing an almost effortless reading experience. Indeed, reading Stoner would be effortless if it weren’t for the novel’s unrelenting sadness. At times I was forced to glance up from the page and consider what I had just read, its painful reality slowly dawning on me. And yet despite all this, reading Stoner was a strangely life-affirming experience.

Conventionally speaking, William Stoner’s life was a failure. His marriage was defined by conflict and resentment and his career by unfulfilled potential. Moments of genuine happiness were fleeting, such as his affair with a young graduate student. Everything always comes to ruin – except for his love of learning and the University. It is within the University and the life of the mind that it enables that Stoner was able to create a life that was truly his own. His love and excitement for English literature never wavers, even during the deepest moments of his depression. Stoner tells of a passion and happiness that resides deep within and is never completely defeated. Someone who is able to tap into it, however briefly, has lived a life worth living. That is all.

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