Excerpt from The Society of Others by William Nicholson, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Society of Others

by William Nicholson

The Society of Others
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  • First Published:
    Jan 2005, 240 pages
    Jan 2006, 240 pages

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Cat says my world view lacks depth and is merely bitterness. I dispute this. I feel no bitterness. I see things as they are. Nature is selfish. All creatures kill to survive. Love is a mechanism to propagate the species. Beauty is a trick that fades. Friendship is an arrangement for mutual advantage. Goodness is not rewarded, and evil is not punished. Religion is superstition. Death is annihilation. And as for God, if he exists at all he stopped caring for humankind centuries ago. Wouldn't you?

So why leave my room?

My education, such as it was, has ended. I have graduated. I'm supposed to be excited about his. My late father has put aside some money for me, quite a lot, a thousand pounds, so that I can have one last great adventure before real life begins. What kind of sales pitch is that? I mean, real life, bonjour tristesse. Appreciate the gesture, but truthfully there's nowhere I want to go and nothing I want to do.

For as long as I can remember I've been at some kind of school. I don't believe I learned anything at all. It was like half-listening to the safety announcement, the kind they give you on planes before take-off. The voice says this is really important, and to please listen carefully, but you still don't listen because it's not going to happen, and if it does you're dead anyway. However I admit now when I look back that the class system gave life a shape. One year followed the next, and without any decisions having to be made on my part I moved up from one class to the next, as if I was climbing a giant staircase. Now here I am at the top, and before me lies what is laughingly called the real world.

I am in the process of not applying for jobs. I'm thinking of becoming a journalist, or possibly a film director. It's hard to decide. Journalists meet a lot of interesting people and get to travel and do their work in short bursts, which means they don't get bored. Film directors spend years on one project and have a seriously bad time if it fails but they get to meet attractive young women and eat location catering. So it's hard to decide.

I'm joking of course. I have a not impressive degree from a not famous college in a not useful subject which I have already entirely forgotten.

"There are any number of jobs out there you could do," says my father, looking at me with faux-sprightly eyes. Despite or perhaps because of the fact that he left us, he knows it's vital that he does nothing to undermine my self-confidence. If you believe in yourself you can do anything. That's what my father believes. It's the post-Christian faith that has replaced faith in the resurrection. Now each of us is supplied with our own personal resurrection. We get to pump ourselves up out of the tomb.

I don't disagree with this. I just ask: why bother?

Anyway my father points out to me all the great opportunities there are out there for me, but neglects to name them. I fill in the gaps. I could join a corporation and sell things I don't want to have myself to people who don't need them. I could be a teacher and tell things I don't want to know to people who don't want to hear. I could be a soldier and kill people. That would be alright if it weren't dangerous.

My friend Mac is going to be an aid worker in Nepal. This is hilarious because all the aid they need in Nepal is getting out from under all the people like Mac who've gone there to find meaning in their lives. They've sucked all the available meaning up and now there's none left for the Nepalese, who have nothing to do except carry explorers' bags up mountains and sell them drugs. Mac says he doesn't care, at least he'll see the mountains. I tell him the thing about a mountain is when you're on it you don't see it. You need to be far away to see a mountain. Like at home, looking at a postcard. Mac says you stand on one mountain and look at the next mountain. I say, Then what? Mac says, You're a real wanker, you know that? Yes, Mac, I'm a real wanker. The genuine article. A simple pleasure that does no harm to man or beast. Be grateful.

Excerpted from The Society of Others by William Nicholson, pages 1-8. Copyright © 2005 by William Nicholson. Excerpted by permission of Nan A. Talese, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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