When I read that Ian McEwan had praised Stoner by John Edward Williams I knew that I would have to add it to my list of summer holiday reading. I have always admired McEwan’s ability to capture his characters’ emotions and as soon as I started reading Stoner I knew why he had chosen to pay tribute to Williams’ work.
The book itself is by no means a cheerful story. In fact it describes a very ordinary man who has a very ordinary existence and encounters what seems rather an unfair amount of misfortune during his lifetime. Why then, you may ask, am I even bothering to review such a book? In this day and age philosophical questions of who, why and how relating to our day to day life are discussed between students and scholars alike all the time. This is why I think that Stoner has received such a different reception to when it was first published. In 1965 when the novel was first released it received a small mention in both the New York Times and the New Yorker but quickly became a ‘back of the shelf’ kind of book.
Its popularity has surged since being re-released last year. In my opinion this is due to Williams’ remarkable way of allowing the reader to think deeply about the smallest of moments in life; our passions, emotion and thought processes. Perhaps this kind of realism within
literature just wasn’t fashionable back in 1965 and nowadays we are more prone to dwelling on the smaller aspects of life? Williams has a knack of choosing the most mundane aspects of his protagonist’s life and making you want to sympathise with him and read more. I would urge anyone looking for a thought provoking novel to choose this one, although read it when the sun is shining because despite its brilliance, it certainly isn’t cheery.