It is a long time since I enjoyed the euphoric tension of and un-put-downable read, the frisson of anticipation at becoming once more completely absorbed in the unfolding of a riveting human drama. Williams’s articulation of the human condition is refreshing, beautifully and succinctly delivered. It was a treat to encounter this novel amidst the morass of verbal drivel with which our minds are relentlessly bombarded.
On the face of it the book is about a farm boy who discovers a passion for literature, followed by a vocation to transmit that passion to others as a dedicated and inspired teacher. He duly abandons his farming background, parents and home, and makes for himself a life in academia. There he encounters departmental politics, in all its cruel and infantile malevolence. And so the book is principally about the unavoidable machinations of colleagues, in every sphere the world over, from playground to boardroom. Wherever people must work together there is the inevitable competition for superiority and seniority, professional jealousy, persecution, back-stabbing, and destructive intrigue. For centuries literature has carried the themes of rivalry and ambition, and the intrigues employed to attain it. Stoner, the protagonist, falls victim to such activities, and is almost – but not completely – destroyed.
Equally destructive is his disastrous marriage, the casualty of which is their gentle and submissive daughter. In an age when old-fashioned morals still reigned supreme – at least in theory – there is no latitude for those who deviate from a rigid societal framework. Hypocrisy abounds, as it always has, and wins over the superior qualities of dedication to vocation and true love.
As the story of Stoner the lecturer and his life unfold, the reader is swept along on wave upon wave of the turbulent events and emotions that accompany this journey. Williams draws one in with a page-turning magnetism that is masterful. It is inexorably sad, and beautiful, a brilliant work which drives me to seek out more of Williams’ writing, and to savour again his brilliant capacity for nature descriptions and character delineation.
BOOK REVIEW by Elizabeth Handley