Having not gone as well as others with Stoner, there were still large parts I thought were excellent. I particularly enjoyed this description of how physical work / DIY has more depth to it than simply making things:
As he worked on the room, and it began slowly to take shape, he realised that for many years, unknown to himself, he had had an image that was ostensibly of a place but which was actually of himself. So it was himself that he was attempting to define as he worked on his study. As he sanded the old boards for his bookcases, and saw the surface roughness disappear, the grey weathering flake away to the essential wood and finally to a rich purity of grain and texture – as he repaired his furniture and arranged it in the room, it was himself that he was putting into a kind of order, it was himself that he was making possible.
(See also this sort-of related post on repair.)
He was forty-two years old, and he could see nothing before him that he wished to enjoy and little behind him that he cared to remember.
The line above, from around three-fifths of the way through Stoner, is the reason why I didn’t find it as compelling as everyone else seems to have done. Being nearly a decade younger than William Stoner at that point in his life, I perhaps feel more positive about life to date and what lies ahead. Similarly, the generation difference between him and us means I found troubling, if not true for the 1930s and 1940s, the elements of the novel relating to his marriage.
It’s perfectly understandable that all those who have raved about Stoner have been moved to done so: it is well written and does hold some universal truths. But each person quoted on the book itself is a man just after middle-age, so far as I can see. I was therefore unlikely to find it “the greatest novel [I’ve] never read” (as per the Sunday Times on the cover). Perhaps it’s the expectation of the novel that has done for me on this occasion. (I’d love to know what any women of any age make of it, too.)
As it happens, two of the people who particularly liked Stoner are people’s whose work I much preferred: Ian McEwan’s On Chesil Beach and Julian Barnes’s Nothing To Be Frightened Of.