Another Dubai trip and Stoner the novel

Having left a very cold Scotland, where it was 3 degrees and felt much colder, on Wednesday of last week, it has been a very pleasant change to be in wall to wall sunshine and a daily temperature of c25 degrees. Our son Stuart, daughter in law Catherine and 3+ twin granddaughters Abigail and Lola live in the Arabian Ranches, which is a 25 minute drive – along a 6 lane highway – from the city. Downtown Dubai is ever expanding and with every subsequent visit, a new building seems to have leapt up toward the sky. The two photos below were taken from the car and one shows men on ropes, presumably doing repairs, or cleaning windows. For excellent views of the Dubai skyline, see here. A trip to Dubai would not be the same without yet another photo of the Burj Al Arab, perhaps the most iconic of Dubai’s stunning buildings, as in the 3rd photo below. No matter how often you see this building, you still wonder at the audacity of its design and construction.

Downtown Dubai

Downtown Dubai

Downtown Dubai building repairs

Downtown Dubai building repairs

Burj Al Arab

 Burj Al Arab

In our house in Dubai, there’s a large vase of lilies on the table. They arrived with closed flowers and have opened quickly, with large white-tongued leaves and startling cucumber shaped orange anthers, with a smaller, heart shaped, purple centre. The photos below show the whole flower top as well as a close up of the anthers, which have an abstract and possibly surreal quality.

White lily

White lily

Lily anthers

Lily anthers

I’ve just finished the much praised novel by John Williams entitled Stoner. The book was first published in the sixties, to no great acclaim but was “discovered” and republished in 2012 and became an international best seller. When you read such glowing reviews of a novel as “A great American novel” and “Rarely has the intimate detail of a life been drawn with such emotional clarity”, you can often get a feeling that it will not live up to its stunning reviews. This book does. It is by turns tragic and joyful and innocent and mature. Stoner teaches in a midsize American university and the book begins by stating that few colleagues or students remembered Stoner who remained an Assistant Professor during his long teaching career. His colleagues or students may not remember Stoner but anyone who reads this intriguing novel most certainly will. There is an excellent introduction to the book by the renowned late Irish author John McGahern – one of my all-time  favourite  novelists. The writing in Stoner is consistently of a high quality and often the reader is presented with a remarkable passage. One example is when Stoner’s father dies and he visits his bereaved mother, who shows him his father. “The body he saw was that of a stranger; it was shrunken and tiny… The dark blue suit which enfolded the body was grotesquely large, and the hands that folded out of the sleeves were like the dried claws of an animal” writes Williams, and the use of the word enfolded makes the passage even more striking. There is much sorrow in this novel but also much joy and Stoner is fiercely realistic about his (and all of our) tiny presence in life. He is relentlessly stoical. Whatever happens, he tholes it. This is a must read book, so beg, steal or borrow this book – from the library of course. Even better, buy it and I’m sure that like me, you’ll revisit it.

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