Many people have discovered John Williams’ fine novel, ‘Stoner’: a beautifully written novel first published in 1965, almost forgotten, then recently re-issued and attracting international acclaim. It tells the story of a young man from a poor American farming family who carves a life teaching at university. It’s a book of a life told simply and movingly.
But there’s another brilliant John Williams novel that some say it’s hard to believe comes from the same author. ‘Augustus’, the life of the Roman Emperor, is told in letters, despatches and memoirs. Thrust into power by the assassination of his uncle, Julius Caesar, the 19 year old Octavius pays a high personal price for the stability and prosperity of Rome and the Empire.
John Williams said, ‘I was dealing with governance in both instances, and individual responsibilities, and enmities and friendship . . . Except in scale, the machinations for power are about the same in a university as in The Roman Empire or Washington.’
‘Augustus’, published in 1972 brings the man and his era to life with immediacy and colour. If you think historical fiction bores with endless battles, prepare to be surprised and fascinated. Williams’ novels reveal that the exercise of power and politics remain familiar over the centuries because human nature does not change. He also recognises the universal longing for love and meaning over a lifetime. Both main characters, Augustus and Stoner, experience disappointment and loss but find solace and moments of transcendence.
So if you loved ‘Stoner’, Waterstone’s book of 2013, discover ‘Augustus’ too.
Ann Merritt is an avid reader and experienced English teacher with a Masters in linguistics. She is also my mum.
If you would like to write a guest post, please get in touch!