Overlooked on its first publication in the US almost half a century ago, John L Williams’s fourth novel nevertheless failed to disappear from literary consciousness. Instead it lingered on in the minds of a few devotees. ‘Why isn’t this book famous?’ C P Snow, himself the author of a fine university novel or two, begged to know in 1973. Recently reissued, Stoner is currently a European bestseller and its ripples are spreading ever outward.
Stoner is an academic novel, though somewhat removed from its rowdier campus cousins, filled as they are with playfulness and satire. This is a book defined by tremulous earnestness, formal elegance and the delicate pursuit of truth and beauty. The protagonist is a ‘simple son of the soil’, an only