SO, 49 years on the mid west university of pre world war 11 wins the Waterstone Book of the Year. Well crafted, of a period, but grey and dull and as fusty as a check academic jacket, as is all too predicted in its opening sentences…”Stoner’s colleagues, who held him in no particular esteem when he was alive, speak of him rarely now…” As my old history master might have said (as he often did when he was politely pointing out you might be stating the obvious) ‘Aaaarrhh’.
Stoner is dysfunctional, in a horrendously dysfunctional marriage, surrounded by dysfunctional, one might almost say lunatically clever colleagues. It is no surprise, he looks elsewhere and his brief moment of salvation creeps up on him unaware.
The sticker on my copy says this is ‘the greatest novel I never read (Sunday Times)’. Tosh. It is hard work. The narrative technique is repetitive to the point you sort of know Williams taught literature and creative writing for 30 years. Here is lesson four. The story is feeble.
It has no place in this blog because it is last century anyway, but it is shame to throw away a prestigious prize on something so old hat. It insults people writing today.
If the genre appeals, then a fresher modern version might be found in Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri, a Booker short lister, sharper, – Lahiri is especially good when she writes about women where Williams seems almost more dysfunctional on the subject than his own hero if that were possible – and altogether more interesting in context. The diaspora is not just a few miles down the dirt track back to daddy’s farm, but transcontinental from Calcutta to Rhode Island, the descriptions of a family catharsis more delicately drawn, the causes more valiant even, the responses it demands of the reader more complex…