Described by the Sunday Times as “the best book you’ve never read”, it’s easy to see why Stoner was not a big hit when it was first published in the 1960s.
For a start, the title makes you think it’s going to be a book about drugs, or at least someone who has smoked too many of them.
The reality is no more enticing - the Stoner of the title is the surname of the protaganist, William Stoner, an unremarkable English professor at a Midwestern university, unhappily married, frustrated in his career.
“Stoner’s colleagues, who held him in no particular esteem while he was alive, speak of him rarely now, “ the opening chapter tells us. “To the older ones his name is a reminder of what waits them all, to the younger ones it is merely a sound that evokes no sense of the past and no identity with which they can associate themselves or their career”.
But the story is so beautifully told, the sadness (but also nobility) of his life so perfectly conveyed, his failures and brief moments of happiness so profoundly moving that it is as gripping a story as you will ever read.
In fact, it’s the kind of book you try to prolong by reading only a few pages a day and once finished press on all your friends so you can have someone to share the experience with.
And that is how it has come back to prominence half a century after it was first published – a true word of mouth success after it was rediscovered in France and exported back to its native America.
Read it - it’ll be one of the best books you’ve ever read…