Lust and learning – a reflection on Stoner by John Williams
I am not often moved to write about a book I have read, not in this environment in any case. However, I have just finished in two days what I feel, right now, to be one of the very best novels I have ever read, a book of such intensity that I keep going back to it, touching its pages, sucking in every word of it, even though I only finished it three hours ago.
At one point in the book, one of the book’s main characters, a woman, says ‘Lust and learning. That’s really all there is, isn’t it?’ I have scribbled into the margin ‘the one truth.’ This is why this book is so brilliant. It distills into 288 pages of pure and simple language the human condition, with this one universal truth right in its centre, that lust and learning really are the only two driving forces in our lives.
I am breathless even after those two short paragraphs, still tingling with the excitement of having read a novel that speaks to me directly, that doesn’t couch its brilliance in webs of complex sentences and long words. It is just there and lives itself into you, and if you read it, it will stay with your forever.
Sue Carver (Anna Le Pard)26th January 2014 at 08:37
Coincidentally, I read Stoner last week. I'm equally impressed by this beautiful novel in which every sentence rings with authenticity. Part of me is cross I wasn't aware of it until now, but the larger part finds that curiously satisfying.
I pose a question, to you and the character. Potent forces as they can be, isn't Stoner (and life) about so much more than learning and lust? For me, Stoner (and life) are also very much about love (of parents and children as well as lovers) and loss; loyalty and betrayal; dedication to one's profession, in this case teaching (as well as learning); quiet dignity and the refusal to become bitter in response to life's unfairnesses. Last but not least, for I find this deeply comforting, the endeavours that confer a degree of immortality: what we give of ourselves to others and art.
richard pierce26th January 2014 at 15:11
Your final sentence is exactky what I think about the book. And, yes, you're right, there is more to Stoner than just that one sentence I have picked out. It's just that that particular sentence struck a particularly strong chord for me, amongst a whole harmony of chords.