Stoner by John Williams awarded Waterstones book prize

image captionStoner has been championed by high profile names including Ian McEwan

A US novel which was first published in 1965, only to fall out of print a year later, has been named Waterstones Book of the Year.

Stoner by late writer John Williams became an unlikely bestseller this year and was hailed as a masterpiece.

The story of an unassuming literary scholar, it gained high profile fans including novelist Ian McEwan.

Stoner has been dubbed "Lazarus literature" because it rose from the grave to achieve commercial success.

Williams' novel triumphed from a shortlist of six books, including Barnes' Levels of Life and Stephen Collins' graphic debut, The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil.

McEwan's endorsement of Stoner helped fuel interest in the book, while Barnes and Nick Hornby also professed to being fans.

Actor Tom Hanks called it "one of the most fascinating things that you've ever come across".

Originally printed in 1965, it gained a glowing review in the New Yorker, which called it the "perfect novel", but it sold just 2,000 copies before going out of print.

Booksellers decided to champion the novel when they noticed a reprinted edition was making an impression on European book charts, and enjoying a resurgence due to word-of-mouth recommendations.

Waterstones' managing director James Daunt said: "It's incredible that Stoner nearly disappeared, but supremely gratifying that we have played some small part in bringing it back to British readers' attentions.

"The year of publication is of no import - this is the book everyone has been talking about in 2013, the very least we can do is name it our Book of the Year," he added.

Stoner was first reissued in 2006 and tells of a university teacher whose marriage and career are a failure and whose wife and colleagues think little of him.

The New Yorker called it "the greatest American novel you've never heard of" earlier this year, and said that a translation by French writer Anna Gavalda sparked off a new wave of interest.

Williams, who died in 1994, penned four novels and two collections of poetry during his career. Another novel, Augustus, which was published in 1972, gained him a National Book Award for Fiction in the US.

His fifth novel, The Sleep of Reason, was unfinished at the time of his death.

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