Bestselling Orion suspense writer Linwood Barclay polishes a precious gem from the past, a novel which has recently been rediscovered to great acclaim.
Suppose I told you the best book I’d read this year was about an ordinary guy who was born in the late 1800s on a farm in Missouri? That he worked the farm as a boy, and went to college to study agriculture so that he could take over running it when his parents got older. That when he got to college, he developed a great love of English literature, and rather than return to the farm, decided he wanted to teach. That he married unhappily, that his career goals were blocked at every turn, that his wife turned his daughter against him. That he endured a life of quiet stoicism.
The man’s name is William Stoner, and the book is called, simply, Stoner. It is, in a word, extraordinary. It was written by John Williams (no, not the guy who did the Star Wars music) and was first published in 1965. It has recently been rediscovered.
You might ask: are there at least vampires? Zombies, perhaps? Is there some kind of alien subplot? Are there terrorists who’ve gotten their hands on a nuclear bomb? Is there a murder? Does Stoner decide, one day, to go to the beach, which is being terrorised by a great white shark?
No, on all counts.
Stoner is an ordinary man. His life is without fanfare. He has what would strike many as a boring job. The novel is a profound examination of the human condition, but that makes it sound pretentious.
It is not.
I fear that describing what the book is about will fail to sell it. All I can tell you is, you have to read it. It’s moving, it’s heartbreaking, it’s beautifully yet very simply written. It’s riveting from page one.
Stoner is not just the best book I read this year. It is the best book I have read in many years.
Linwood Barclay is the author of nine bestselling standalone thrillers. His latest, No Safe House, was published in 2014. It is the sequel to No Time for Goodbye (2007), which has been translated into nearly forty languages.