As far as I know this book was considered something of a hidden classic until recently. Indeed, the review quote on the front of my copy says 'the greatest novel you've never read' which is probably quite an accurate description. For some reason it has had some sort of revival recently. I first heard about it on some literature forums (yes, I'm that sad) where readers were celebrating the fact that such a classic had been rediscovered. When I went into Waterstones it was on the best selling shelf along with mostly new material.
I liked the novel straight away. It was an immediately profound exploration of a seemingly ordinary life which tends to be a favourite subject matter for me. It was also written in the type of prose I like which is simple, readable and littered with hidden context without being pretentious. It charts the life of a man called William Stoner from adolescence to old age. Stoner spends most his life tutoring at a University. He makes such decisions and things happen to him in such a way that you feel a deep sadness and pity for what appeared to me a fairly unfulfilled life.
It's not quite as simple as that though. Stoner doesn't make completely awful decisions he just makes relatable mistakes. These small mistakes gently push him down a life that we know could have been better but that he accepts with a gentle grace. It is this type of dramatic irony that affected me the most as a reader and made me find the novel very moving. To some extent, it is also the study of a more repressed time where people were not fully able to lead the lifestyle they wanted to. However, I am slightly reluctant to say this because I feel there are probably just as many William Stoner's today as there were then.
This novel is definitely worth a read and is fully deserving of it's recent revival. It comments on the human condition beautifully and like all great novels (in my opinion) it says so much by saying so little. That's why I would give it 8 dancing bananas out of 10.