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I live in Bedford, England. Having retired from teaching; I am now a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Threshold Concepts in the context of A-level Physics. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. I have also recently become a keen playgoer to London Fringe Theatre. I enjoy mostly classics and I read the playscripts and add those to the blog. I am a member of Bedford Writers' Circle. See their website here: http://bedford-writers.co.uk/ Follow me on twitter: @daja57

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

"Stoner" by John Williams

The Sunday Times call this 'The greatest novel you've never read'. Of course this put my back up straight away.

Stoner is a farm boy who goes to University in the early 1900s to study agriculture but is seduced by literature and becomes an assistant professor of English. This is his life. The book begins by telling you that when he dies he is quickly forgotten.

Stoner is the everyman who is a holy innocent, making his way through a world scorns him and does him down. His only weapon is his integrity. As he dies he thinks he is a failure.

In some ways this book reminded me of Herman Hesse's Knulp. Williams seems to suggest that there is a transcendence to everyday life.

It is beautifully written. There are moments of perfect description. The prose is lean and tight but each sentence appears to be just right.

The plot is carefully crafted. The characters shape the world in which they live and are shaped by their interactions with one another. What happens flows inevitably though purposelessly from what has happened.

Is it a tragedy? For the first half of the book,Stoner faces repeated trials. There is a sense of impending doom that makes it harder and harder to read. One can scarcely bear to discover what more pain can be inflicted on this patient stoic. Exactly half way through the book, Stoner's integrity and purpose as a teacher faces its greatest test. Happiness does not really arrive until two thirds of the way through; at the three quarters mark this happiness is inevitably snuffed out. But from this moment things get better, even when he faces his terminal illness.

Is it a great book. Certainly it is almost perfect. I did find it difficult to read quickly, in part because I was constantly expecting more heartache. It wasn't a page turner for me. But I think it is a book I will remember for a long time.

Beautifully crafted. March 2014; 288 pages

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