LONDON -A near-forgotten US novel published almost 50 years ago won the Waterstones Book of the Year award on Tuesday as it enjoys a surprising renaissance and praise from figures as diverse as actor Tom Hanks and author Ian McEwan. “Stoner” is an understated 1965 work of fiction by the late John Williams about William Stoner, a Missouri literary scholar struggling with his marriage and his career. The book sold only 2,000 copies before going out of print just a year later.

However, a 2011 translation into French by novelist Anna Gavalda helped the work become a best-seller in France and the Netherlands, bringing it to wider international attention. Labeled “a perfect novel” by the New York Times and “one of the most fascinating things that you’ve ever come across” by Hanks, it shot to number one on the Amazon chart in July.

Waterstones stores across Britain nominated the novel as their Book of the Year for the British retail book chain’s annual award. Other contenders on a shortlist of six included Booker prize-winning Julian Barnes’s “Levels of Life” and graphic novel “The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil” by Stephen Collins. Other works by Williams include “Augustus”, which won the National Book Award for fiction in the United States in 1973, and “Butcher’s Crossing.” The Texan, who was born in 1922, served in World War Two before going on to found the writing program at the University of Denver. Williams died in Arkansas in 1994.