Summary and book reviews of The Society of Others by William Nicholson

The Society of Others

By William Nicholson

The Society of Others
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  • Hardcover: Jan 2005,
    240 pages.
    Paperback: Jan 2006,
    240 pages.

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Book Summary

In this gripping fable, a young man on an aimless journey crosses a border into a world of unexplained threats and terrifying violence.

Drawing readers in with a cool, oddly appealing bluntness, the narrator of The Society of Others launches a disturbingly surreal tale of his adventures in an unnamed country somewhere in Eastern Europe. His plan is to hitchhike through Europe without any destination, but like a character in a Kafka novel, he finds himself confronting a world that defies rational explanation and descending into an orgy of violence that threatens to destroy his power to control his identity.

Written with a pace and thrust of a thriller, The Society of Others is a stunning intellectual adventure, a moral fable bursting with art, poetry, music, and profound philosophical insight.

One

I'm writing this by the light of a new day, with a pen on paper, the old way. No seamless corrections possible here. I want to see my first thoughts, and the words I cross out, and the words I choose to replace them. First thoughts are usually lies. Vicino says, Write something about yourself, then write the opposite. Then open your mind to the possibility that the second statement is true.

I'm not a bad person. I'm a bad person.

I didn't mean to kill the man in the reading room. I did mean to kill the man in the reading room.

What happened afterwards wasn't my fault, don't blame me. It was my fault. Blame me.



So this is the story of how everything changed. I'm not going to tell you my name. If you want a name, use your own.

Begin with a day picked at random, recalled without hindsight. I must do my best to make you understand what I was, because only then will you understand what I have become. The operation has been a ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse

The Society of Others is an extraordinary book that can be read on many levels.  A number of reviewers compare it to Kafka's works. There are similarities but also differences, in that Kafka tends to set up impossible situations (such as a man being transformed into an insect) and then imbues his stories with such realism and attention to detail that the events become real.  Nicholson achieves the same end result but starts, as it were, from the opposite end - moving from real to surreal with such aplomb that the reader is likely to cross the border line from one to the other with, almost, unquestioning acceptance.

The fact that The Society of Others is open to interpretation has led to mixed reviews.  For example, Geoffrey Wansell writing for the Daily Mail (UK) says, 'it is thrilling in every sense, but it is also hypnotic, fast-moving, and intellectually challenging, as it twists and turns, leaving you confused, uncertain, even uncomfortable, and yet utterly hooked. A philosophical master class, it is quite staggeringly good, whereas the reviewer for Publishers Weekly (who some might feel have missed the point) says, 'the moral of the story—you snots in the West don't know how good you have it—comes through so early that the protagonist's final transformation to good, loving citizen and son feels redundant. As always, you can read an excerpt for yourself, taken from the first chapter.  However, read in isolation, these first pages don't do justice to the book as a whole.    (Reviewed by BookBrowse Review Team).

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Media Reviews
Kirkus Reviews

....Nicholson peaks too soon, before the halfway point, and the thrill is never quite recaptured in the second half, as the hitchhiker makes discoveries about himself, his profound love for his parents, and the importance of kindness to strangers. There'll be entertaining cat-and-mouse games with the secret police, leading to an extravagant Hitchcock-style climax, and a closing postmodernist twist provides an existential dimension. Highly promising, even if flawed. 

Publishers Weekly

The moral of the story—you snots in the West don't know how good you have it—comes through so early that the protagonist's final transformation to good, loving citizen and son feels redundant.

Library Journal - Lawrence Rungren

The novel's dreamlike atmosphere reflects the unnamed narrator's psychological state as he journeys from isolation and fashionable nihilism to an appreciation of the importance of human connection. Nicholson, who won an Oscar for his work on the screenplay for Gladiator, pulls off with aplomb what could have been a rather didactic exercise. 

Booklist - Allison Block

Nicholson weaves social and political commentary into this thought-provoking page-turner about coming-of-age in a chaotic world. Mordant and wise, though perhaps too somber for some. 

Daily Mail - Geoffrey Wansell

It is thrilling in every sense, but it is also hypnotic, fast-moving, and intellectually challenging, as it twists and turns, leaving you confused, uncertain, even uncomfortable, and yet utterly hooked. A philosophical master class, it is quite staggeringly good.

Author Blurb Piers Paul Read, author of Alive
This is a novel I would dearly love to have written yet one whose message is an antidote for envy. It is exciting, funny, wise, and beautifully written.

Author Blurb Paul Goat Allen
Readers who enjoy stories that are as entertaining as they are edifying should definitely seek out this novel -- a philosophical masterwork. 

Author Blurb Jill Paton Walsh
This extraordinary book, a sort of wild combination of Kafka and The Catcher in the Rye, whirls with its catatonically dysfunctional hero into a maelstrom of violence and danger to learn from oppressed strangers what really matters in a human life, and to face the most terrifying of interrogators, the self. The reader will not escape unchanged.

Author Blurb Peter Stanford, author of Heaven: A Guide to the Undiscovered Country
It's a challenge as well as a pleasure, but The Society of Others is a novel that demands attention. William Nicholson is someone we are going to hear a good deal more about.

Reader Reviews
sombre

Excellent Book
I loved this book, it is so contemporary. In a post-religion, post-feminist, post-Marxist, post-political world people are striving for meaning. The author embraces all this and still leaves us optimistic. Well written and pacy. Flags a little at ...   Read More

Milton Laene Araujo

A MIND OPENER
The Society of Others strangelly opens our mind into realism and existentialism. It is written with such a simplicity, yet it intrigues our knowledge because William Nicholson give us a spy tale and a mystical fable taking us into a journey with no ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

William Nicholson is a playwright for film, TV and stage. His TV credits include Shadowlands (the life of C.S. Lewis) and Life Story, both of which won the BAFTA Best Television Drama award in their year.  His first play, an adaptation of Shadowlands for the stage, was Evening Standard Best Play of 1990, and went on to a Tony-award winning run on Broadway. He was nominated for an Oscar for the screenplay of the film version, which was directed by Richard Attenborough and starred Anthony Hopkins and Debra Winger.

Since then he has ...

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