Sunday, 1 September 2013


It started when a couple of people came up to me on the beach last weekend - then somebody else mentioned it as I wandered past the beach-huts with the book in my hand - even the waitress in the cafe said, 'Oh, you're reading that book.' The waiting list for Stoner at the library is as long as your arm and I can't remember when there was such buzz about a book that was worth reading. As opposed to hype about Fifty Shades of JK Rowling.
I'm not sure whether it was Bryan Appleyard or Ian McEwan who got in first but the consensus is that this is the 'greatest novel you have never read.'  It is quiet, spare, restrained, the story of one man's life of heartbreaking insignificance and humanity. Stoner is a Missouri farm boy who goes to agricultural college where he discovers the power of literature when he hears his professor reading Shakespeare's sonnet 73.

This thou perceivest, which makes thy love more strong, 
To love that well which thou must leave ere long.  

Stoner becomes a professor. He endures a disappointing marriage, he fails his daughter, he loves deeply  and then love slips through his fingers. Nothing happens to him and yet he lives a life of quiet integrity.

Was it the greatest novel I'd never read? It has been echoing in my mind all week, reminding me of Wallace Stegner's Crossing to Safety, and there was something in its tone that also made me think of The Professor's House by Willa Cather. One of those novels that makes you realise that this is why you read. Trouble is ... when a book is this good, what do you read next?

8 comments:

Cosy Books said...

You can't beat a good book. So glad you enjoyed it...but you're right, good luck finding a follow-up that can match it!

I had two totally awesome reads and now it's Nancy Mitford. She's all over the place like a blue-ass fly...I'm so distracted!

mary said...

Is it PIgeon Pie? I read it years ago and was mightily disappointed after The Pursuit of Love.

Noelle the dreamer said...

Well now Mary, you know there will be other books to read, some good, some bad...Where would we be without these tomes and the reflexion they create! I'll add the title to my list though...if it is that good!
Blessings,

mary said...

For a forgotten classic, it has certainly come back with a bang, Noelle - piled high in every bookshop over here! But, yes, I'm sure there will another great read coming up soon.

Lucille said...

I have a weighty collection of Elizabeth Taylor's short stories on top of my pile at the moment, but you can be sure I will be adding Stoner next.

mary said...

I"ve been meaning to read that Taylor collection since it came out, Lucille. I've been rationing myself as I've finished all the novels and will be so sad when I've don't have any more.

bookssnob said...

It's like Crossing to Safety?! Why haven't I heard of it? I need to go and get this now!

Cait O'Connor said...

I love the extracts you have chosen.

Thank you so much for alerting me to the (Seamus Heaney) Andrew O'Hagan book. I am off to see if the library catalogue has it as it looks to be a great book. It was kind of you to call back at my place.