Reviews: Stoner by John Williams and The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

When I was away in New Zealand, I thought I probably wouldn’t have much time for reading (except on the very long plane journeys!) Yet I read more than I expected – the friend I was travelling with is an avid reader too, so we often found ourselves relaxing with our books. Originally I didn’t know if I would write about the books I read while I was away but I absolutely loved the two books I chose. So, naturally, I wanted to talk about them here!

Stoner John Williams review

Stoner – John Williams
Vintage, 2012
Originally published, 1965

Stoner – John Williams

Like many people, I became aware of this book when it suddenly appeared everywhere in bookshops last year. At first, I was drawn to the wonderful Vintage cover but from what I’d read of the blurb, I thought it seemed like a book I’d enjoy. I tried to avoid reviews, but the ones I did read reinforced the idea that I would enjoy the book. And I was right.

Stoner tells the life of William Stoner who, after attending an English Literature seminar at the University where he is studying agriculture, finds his path in life drastically altered from the one originally planned for him. He becomes a teacher and lives a quiet life; after his death he is rarely remembered by colleagues and seems to have made little impact on those he taught. But through the journey of Stoner’s quiet life we are told a tale of  human strength, and human conflicts and small defeats, teaching us that however quiet a life may seem, it is never insignificant.

On the blurb, it says that Stoner is ‘a novel to be savoured’ and I couldn’t agree more. I didn’t want this book to end – in fact, my Kindle told me I was 96% through, only for me to find myself reading the final sentence (there was extra reading material at the end of the novel)! The novel is a character-driven one, focussing completely on Stoner’s life, and when I finished the book I felt disappointed that I was no longer a part of his life and world. Stoner slowly and quietly got under my skin; I was completely invested in his character. I was rooting for him – disappointed at his defeats, and pleased at his successes.

The love of literature and the academia are aspects I also particularly enjoyed in the novel. I loved reading about Stoner’s discovery of literature, the love of learning and desire to gain knowledge, and later the politics of academia and difficult students, all of which were painted very well through the novel.

Stoner is a quiet and fascinating book, it’s one to be savoured and enjoyed, it’s one that will have a lasting impact on me. Even though I’ve long finished the book, writing my thoughts down now has brought back the memories of reading this book and I want to relive that experience. A book such as this – quiet, thoughtful, slow – deserves a reread to fully enjoy what it has to say. I read this on my Kindle but I couldn’t resist buying a physical copy when I saw it in a charity shop when I returned home. A new favourite.

The Goldfinch Donna Tartt review

The Goldfinch – Donna Tartt
Little, Brown, 2013

The Goldfinch – Donna Tartt

This is the first of Donna Tartt’s novels I’ve read and, based on this one, I’ll be eagerly reading her back catalogue (although given the rate she publishes a new novel, I’ll try not to rush through them!)

I went into reading The Goldfinch knowing very little – I only knew that it began when thirteen year old Theo Decker survives the explosion which kills his mother at an art gallery, and he steals the small painting which reminds him of her – The Goldfinch. It’s difficult to talk about the rest of the plot without giving too much away, and boiling the novel down into a short synopsis does it an injustice – The Goldfinch is a complex and rich tale which encompasses many ideas and themes.

The Goldfinch is beautifully written and I loved Tartt’s writing style. There’s an energy in the prose and dialogue which drives the book forward. A book of this length needs that energy and, paired with the novel’s great pacing, makes for a constantly moving and fast-paced novel, but also one that I wanted to savour. Yet, I read the book surprisingly quickly. Part of this could be that I was reading on my Kindle which I tend to read faster on, but the main reason I think was the desire to know what was going to be happen, to continue to be immersed in the novel’s world, and to read more of Tartt’s wonderful, energetic prose. While it’s a suspenseful and compelling novel, it’s also a philosophical one. It certainly made me think and, although I felt the philosophical side got slightly too heavy near the end, I still hugely enjoyed this book. Another new favourite which I want to reread.

Overall, I loved both of these books. They are very different in style – Stoner is a slow and quiet book; The Goldfinch is fast-paced and energetic – but I can’t recommend either of them enough.

Have you read either of these books? What did you think?





19 thoughts on “Reviews: Stoner by John Williams and The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

  1. what a coincidence that you mentioned “Stoner”. I purchased it last week. I also was attracted by the cover. I am convinced now that I will enjoy it.
    I really liked “The Goldfinch”. It’s the only novel I have read so far of the author. It’s one of the best novel I have read this year. The audio narration was excellent as well.

    Here is my review:

  2. I have never read either of these, but have kept seeing them both in book shops recently. I was especially intrigued by Stoner, and have been meaning to give it a read, so I think I will definitely give it a go now. It sounds really interesting!

  3. Glad you enjoyed these two books, Gemma. I liked Stoner very much. There’s just something about it that highlights the significance of the small challenges Stoner must face in his quiet life. I haven’t read The Goldfinch, but I enjoyed The Secret History.

    • I agree, and am glad that so many of us got the chance to read this book! I’m sure I would never have found it if I hadn’t seen it in bookshops.

      Thanks for the recommendation – I’ve heard lots of good things about The Secret History and am looking forward to reading it!

  4. Pingback: A Year in Books: 2014 | The Perfectionist Pen

  5. Pingback: The Secret History – Donna Tartt | The Perfectionist Pen

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