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252 of 261 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A beautiful forgotten modern classic
It only took a few pages to know that I was reading an unknown, forgotten masterpiece. The writing is incredibly beautiful, the kind that is so smooth, so fluid, that you forget you are even reading, reaching straight into the heart of the matter. Stoner has become one of my favourite book of all times. It seems slightly incredible that such a good book could be about...
Published 17 months ago by Ann Fairweather

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152 of 168 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Desperate Lives
Am I the only reader who wanted to give William Stoner a resounding slap?

He becomes infatuated with, and pursues, a woman who appears to be clinically depressed, with possibly a range of additional mental health problems. She subsequently makes his life a misery. And he lets her. He is bullied at work and fails to achieve his full potential. He falls in love,...
Published 24 months ago by Tamara L


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252 of 261 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A beautiful forgotten modern classic, 27 May 2013
By 
Ann Fairweather (England) - See all my reviews
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It only took a few pages to know that I was reading an unknown, forgotten masterpiece. The writing is incredibly beautiful, the kind that is so smooth, so fluid, that you forget you are even reading, reaching straight into the heart of the matter. Stoner has become one of my favourite book of all times. It seems slightly incredible that such a good book could be about the very uneventful, sad life of a professor in an American university. You follow Stoner from his young years as a student and farmer, right up to his death, married, with an estranged daughter and a half-failed career behind him. It is somehow difficult to say how fascinating, gripping this book is, but it is. Stoner struggles to affirm himself as a formidable intellectual that he is in his field, because he is so self-effacing, so humble of character. You really wish him to take a more vigorous stand against his dreadful colleague who will undermine and ruin his whole life eventually. But at work like at home, with his very demanding, difficult wife, Stoner always chooses the path of least resistance, and lets his life ebb away...This attitude becomes near unbearable for the reader when it comes to the love of his life and yet again... He is a maddening character yet so real that you love him and desperately want him to be happy. There is certainly a lot of Stoner in us and why his story is so moving, so affecting. It also talks of an attitude to life that is the complete opposite of what we want now. It is about a very quiet character, and an inner life that does not need outside validations. It is about valuing the life of the mind above all else, even if it means renouncing happiness in other ways. It is about avoiding confrontations with loved ones even if it means giving-up your own rights. Stoner really is a great, great story, with a deep flamboyance, resonance very few novels possess. To read and to cherish.
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98 of 106 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A life lived flat., 10 Jan 2013
This review is from: Stoner: A Novel (Vintage Classics) (Paperback)
I loved this story. A tale of a life lived flat but told with such internal depth and subtle emotion. It deals effortlessly with the layers of deceit and self-deceit that sometimes exist in relationships - particularly 'public' relationships - and the creeping discomfort that comes with understanding that life is short and it often belongs to other people. It is sad. But not depressingly so. Our hero, Stoner, could have made other choices - he just didn't.

I finished it this morning, buried my head in my pillow and cried a bit. I realise that I will miss William Stoner. Technically, I spent only two days with him but I felt the whole life of the character. This is one that will keep flooding back.
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77 of 84 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A quiet man, 16 Jan 2012
By 
Maree Hall "Books Rule!" (Melbourne, Australia) - See all my reviews
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Stoner is the story of an inconsequential man, the author tells us so right at the start, then proceeds to prove himself wrong. Even the "smallest" existence can be so full of life, so full of meaning, Williams seems to be saying.

John Stoner grows up dirt poor but discovers a passion for literature and becomes a teacher at Columbia University. The book chronicles university life and politics, love, marriage and parenthood and finally, the thoughts a man has as he prepares himself for departure from this world.

The book is very quiet and elegantly written. It is also profoundly sad. At every turn, Stoner is denied happiness, and yet he faces every situation with integrity and stoicism, like his farmer parents. Life is endured, not enjoyed.

"...within a month he knew that his marriage was a failure; within a year he stopped hoping that it would improve. He learned silence and did not insist upon his love."

For all it's sadness, the book is strangely compelling. Williams' insights into the working of human relationships are timeless. And his eloquent prose is an absolute pleasure to read and has a poignancy that I found deeply moving.

Rating: thoroughly readable
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77 of 84 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Why is this novel not famous?, 21 Mar 2003
This review is from: Stoner (Paperback)
It's great to have Stoner back in print in the UK, along with Augustus, both with wonderful new introductions. It's been 30 years since I first read Stoner and reading it again for the third or fourth time I can only confirm that the novel more than stands the test of time. It is a story of an honest man, of personal integrity in the face of considerable obstacles. Very few contemporary novels have moved me to the same extent or depth as this one. C.P. Snow in a review of the first British edition asked the question, "Why is this novel not famous?" Why not, indeed.
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109 of 120 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Understated masterpiece., 18 July 2003
By 
Michael Leone (Brooklyn, NY) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Stoner (Paperback)
It's appropriate somehow that this American novel is in-print in England, because it's so unlike most fiction America produces: it's quiet, somber, compact and gracefully written, thoroughly unhip and un-modern. It is a simple tale about a somewhat banal English professor in the midwest whose life just sort of floats by him. The prose is rich and terse, never ostentatious, and for a novel whose setpieces occur mostly in an academic setting, it's utterly engrossing. Williams writes with humanity and insight about relatively normal people we would pass by in the street, and in being so faithful to their aches and appetites, he convinces you -- like all good fiction from Homer to Tolstoi -- that these are real human beings you're reading about. Nothing less than extraordinary. Please buy this book!
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152 of 168 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Desperate Lives, 6 Nov 2012
By 
Tamara L (North West England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Stoner: A Novel (Vintage Classics) (Paperback)
Am I the only reader who wanted to give William Stoner a resounding slap?

He becomes infatuated with, and pursues, a woman who appears to be clinically depressed, with possibly a range of additional mental health problems. She subsequently makes his life a misery. And he lets her. He is bullied at work and fails to achieve his full potential. He falls in love, but of course the mad wife proves a bit of an obstacle (among other things). I wish someone would do for Edith what Jean Rhys did for Bertha Mason in Wide Sargosso Sea. John McGahern writes tellingly in the introduction, 'Stoner's wife is a type that can be glimpsed in much American writing, through such different sensibilities as O'Neill, Tennessee Williams, Faulkner, Scott Fitzgerald - beautiful, unstable, educated to observe the surfaces of a privileged and protected society - but never can that type of wife have been revealed as remorselessly as here.'

Hmm, common thread here. Cold-hearted shallow women all written by men. No slight on the brilliant McGahern who created memorable and very moving three-dimensional female characters. No wonder he seems to see these 'types' as an alien species from across the Atlantic.

Stoner's stoicism (passivity?) is sometimes irritating but it goes beyond that when he lets his beloved daughter go to the wall, Philip Larkin style. He is too weak to intervene in Edith's systematic campaign to ruin Grace's life, seeing himself powerless to act in the face of his wife's manipulative behaviour. Powerless? Man up, Stoner. Get with the Patriarchy! Read the Women's Room, The Yellow Wallpaper. You have power in this marriage. Wield some of it to salvage your daughter's future.

Stoner isn't always such a victim. He has enough initiative to choose a different life than the one he was born into, even though this is bewildering and upsetting for his parents. He fights a few battles with his nemesis at university and has some victories. He even wins the odd skirmish with Edith. But to stand by and watch his only child disintegrate over a sustained period and do nothing was unforgivable: an abdication of moral and parental responsibility.

I have turned this into a dissection of Stoner's character, but that is essentially what the book is about, a candidate perhaps for one of George Eliot's 'those who lived faithfully a hidden life.' John Williams himself describes Stoner as a 'hero.' Not in my book. Ok, I get it: well written; forgotten classic; quiet beauty about the prose etc. I don't feel I can give it less than three stars, but its central premise for me is flawed. I thought the description of the two disabled characters was slightly creepy as well, both twisted in mind as well as body. Sorry to spoil the consensus and most likely upset a few people but I didn't like this book very much at all.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A masterpiece: a remarkable novel about an unremarkable life, 9 July 2013
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The first two paragraphs of this novel summarise the unremarkable life of William Stoner, and the rest of the book gives the details of this unremarkable man, unhappily married, a failure in his career, with an alcoholic daughter. But he dies content and fulfilled, and remarkably the reader comes to believe that this is richly deserved. His is an examined life, and his failures and a few small successes add up to a rich and profound existence. I have absolutely no idea how the author conjures up so much from such apparently sterile material, but he does, and it is a masterpiece.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A life of quiet desperation (with compensations), 3 July 2013
By 
Susan Glazier (London) - See all my reviews
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This is a lyrical classic novel, inducing empathic feelings of despair mixed with irony and humour and occasionally some hope. Stoner's main comfort and compensation is in his life's work as a scholar (which he feels passionately about), and also in his intense though relatively brief love affair with a much younger woman. The departmental politics at the University are extremely well described and, again, I could only identify and feel outrage for Stoner. I found the book difficult to stay with at first (wanting to read a thriller or something more exciting). But the novel inexorably drew me in at an increasing pace, until at last I was hooked. Then I fell in love with it.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A strange mixture of principle and passivity, 18 July 2014
By 
Ralph Blumenau (London United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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WARNING: SOME READERS MAY FEEL THIS REVIEW IS TOO MUCH OF A SPOILER.

This is a beautifully written book, and it is a compelling read. I was so absorbed by it that I have to make this a five star review. And yet I am puzzled by the character of William Stonor, the central figure of this novel. In some respects he can be very firm and determined and will stand up for himself and for certain principles; yet in so many others there is a passive acceptance of all the bad things that life will throw at him. Some reviewers have called him a Stoic, but proper Stoicism is a philosophy of life, a sign of strength and an acceptance of suffering that cannot be avoided, whereas William's strikes me as temperamental weakness and almost masochism. The genius of the novel is that it made me feel sorry for him, though I can understand those reviewers who despise him.

He was born in 1891 and lived through the First and Second World War. (One is frequently made aware of the historical background of that period.) His simple farming parents had paid for him to go to Columbia University in Missouri to study agriculture, in the expectation that he can afterwards make a contribution to the family farm. Without telling them, he switches to study English, and his parents only learn this and that he intends to become an academic when they come to his graduation day. They are upset, but accepting - and that attitude is certainly inherited by their son. The University gave him a teaching assignment; he had a book published; and eventually he achieved tenure.
Before that he had proposed to a girl he scarcely knew and had married her. Edith quickly turned out to be deeply neurotic, stiff and unresponsive in bed as well as out of it, often hysterical, and driven by a vulnerable self-image. Stonor soon realized that she cannot love him, but he continues to be gentle and accepting with her. After three years she suddenly and briefly became physically passionate, but it was only because she wanted a child. As soon as she became pregnant, she could no longer bear to be touched by him. She was bedridden during the whole of the pregnancy and for a year after the birth of their daughter Grace, and William, both then and later, took over the care of the little girl on whom he could lavish all the love that he could not bestow on his wife.

Then, when Grace was about six, Edith suddenly took the little girl over and stopped her spending all her time with her father. And again William, though deeply hurt at the loss of the old intimacy between him and his daughter, let it all happen and did not assert himself. He allowed Edith to move his study from a convenient to an inconvenient room in the house, and then, when she invaded that space, he moved all his work to his office at the University.

At Columbia he was at first an indifferent lecturer, sticking to his notes and unable for a long time to convey his own love of literature; but after a few years he managed to do without his notes and became an inspiring teacher. His students became enthusiastic; his graduate seminars were full. But then he admitted, rather reluctantly, one further student, Charles Walker, at the urging of Dr Lomax, the new Head of Department; and this student caused him a lot of trouble and, when he repeatedly failed to turn in a paper, William had no option but to flunk him. Lomax was furious, but as William had tenure, Lomax could not dismiss him. Instead he scheduled him to give only freshmen courses and those at the most spread-out and inconvenient times. William thought he ought to look for another university, but Edith did not want to move. He yielded to her and stayed on at Colombia for more than twenty years.

His depression lifted for a while when he had a love affaire with Katharine Driscoll, a young academic. But when this became known to Lomax, it was yet another weapon to deploy against William, and Katharine left Columbia. William, unable to leave his wife and his by now damaged daughter, did not follow her. He dully accepted his wife's tantrums, her manipulating her daughter when she became pregnant into marriage to a man she did not love - Grace was as passive about everything as her father was - and he accepted his daughter passing out of his life.

Only his teaching gave him pleasure, and he even managed, after many years, to force Lomax into giving him back his graduate classes. He became established as a character. But Lomax achieved one more victory: William's final grim illness forced him to retire two years earlier than he had to. He died as he had lived, resigned and accepting what this time is inevitable - a true Stoic at the end.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars William Stoner, 20 Mar 2014
By 
M. Dowden (London, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Stoner: A Novel (Vintage Classics) (Paperback)
I must admit that although a friend of mine and a bookseller was championing this before it suddenly became a bestseller I had always shied away from this due to the title, as I thought it was about drugs and drug taking. As this is our current book group choice though I was glad to see that Stoner refers to the surname of the principal character, and the only drugs that are ever mentioned in this are towards the end, and are painkillers.

The main reason we as a group decided to read this was to see why it had suddenly become such a big success; it was first published in 1965 and was well received, but for whatever reason it then seemed to disappear. Perhaps fashions changed and more people started to read others books such as thrillers and horror, but there doesn’t seem any valid reason why this should have been neglected, or really such a big reason why this has suddenly become so popular.

Beautifully crafted John Williams here tells the tale of William Stoner, up unto his death, with such clarity and at less than three hundred pages such brevity that you can only read this amazed. Stoner is born in the Mid-West to a farming family trying to scratch a living off the land. It would initially seem that his life will be the same as his father’s as he takes over the farm, especially as he is being encouraged to go to Agricultural College. But at college Stoner’s life alters as he finds a deep love in literature. And thus Stoner becomes a teacher at the college. We follow him through his marriage which is rather a dead affair, through his affair and his fights at the college.

On the surface you could say that nothing much happens to Stoner and that his life is rather unmemorable, but why this book works is because his life is memorable, at least to him and those who are in regular contact with him. He is an Everyman and quietly gets on with living through its trials and tribulations, and thus speaks to us all. His life to us as a reader is deeply eventful and you really can feel for him, and like Stoner himself we also feel that his wife is a bit of an enigma.

With beautiful and elegant prose and so strongly realistic this is really a novel that is well worth reading, both rewarding in what it makes us think about, and in the way that you can thoroughly lose yourself in the life of William Stoner. Why it is suddenly now popular will always remain a mystery, as surely it shouldn’t have been forgotten about in the first place.
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Stoner: A Novel (Vintage Classics)
Stoner: A Novel (Vintage Classics) by John Williams (Paperback - 5 July 2012)
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