REVIEW: Stoner by John L. Williams

by |January 22, 2016

stonerReview by John Purcell

I completely missed the talk about Stoner by John Williams. Originally published in 1965 to critical praise and few sales it sank like a stone until 2003 when it was rediscovered and celebrated as an American classic.

I don’t know what I was doing at the time. Probably sitting in my second-hand bookshop reading and taking no notice of the world. Blissful memories.

Without me noticing, Stoner rose from the dead, was praised by all and, in the great tradition of bookselling, after a decent passage of time, was escorted back to the grave again.

That’s where I found it.

As the preface proudly declares, Stoner is the story of an unexceptional man who lives an unexceptional life – a farmer’s son who becomes a lecturer at the state university. A footnote, if he is lucky. But then author John Williams leans in to take a closer look.

No novel in recent memory has elicited so many emotions from me. Reading Stoner, I was in turn desperately sad, impotently angry, utterly despondent and then, strangely hopeful and elated. I closed the book feeling grateful and invigorated.

I was imagining myself a foot soldier in a battle against the unthinking horde with Stoner standing beside me whispering, ‘Stand your ground and we’ll all get through this.’

Stoner is a wonderful surprise. I am very happy I stumbled across it. I will be re-reading it very soon.

Just in case, like me, you missed the second coming of Stoner, I thought I would just draw attention to the book again. I hope you don’t mind.

Learn more about Stoner here!


by John L. Williams

stonerWilliam Stoner enters the University of Missouri at nineteen to study agriculture. A seminar on English literature changes his life, and he never returns to work on his father’s farm. Stoner becomes a teacher. He marries the wrong woman. His life is quiet, and after his death his colleagues remember him rarely.

Yet with truthfulness, compassion and intense power, this novel uncovers a story of universal value. Stoner tells of the conflicts, defeats and victories of the human race that pass unrecorded by history, and reclaims the significance of an individual life. A reading experience like no other, itself a paean to the power of literature, it is a novel to be savoured.

Learn more about Stoner here!

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About the Contributor

While still in his twenties, John Purcell opened a second-hand bookshop in Mosman, Sydney, in which he sat for ten years reading, ranting and writing. Since then he has written, under a pseudonym, a series of very successful novels, interviewed hundreds of writers about their work, appeared at writers’ festivals, on TV (most bizarrely in comedian Luke McGregor’s documentary Luke Warm Sex) and has been featured in prominent newspapers and magazines. ​Now, as the Director of Books at, Australia’s largest online bookseller, he supports Australian writing in all its forms. He lives in Sydney with his wife, two children, three dogs, five cats, unnumbered gold fish and his overlarge book collection. His novel, The Girl on the Page, will be published by HarperCollins Australia in October, 2018.

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