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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So here I am in the process of not applying for jobs because the only jobs that would take me are the jobs I do not wish to take. It's exactly like sex. The women you really want are the ones who don't really want you. This is not a coincidence. Things that are out of reach are desirable precisely because there's no chance you'll get what you want. Getting what you want is to be avoided at all costs. Ask for the moon.

You may be wondering how I propose to live, given that I have no means of earning my living. I propose to be a parasite. To be precise, I propose to live in symbiotic parasitism. My host and provider is of course my father. My father makes a lot of money, he can afford it. I'm not expensive to run. And if you're thinking, Why should he keep you? I reply, Because he asked.

Think about it. I wouldn't be at this party if he and my mother hadn't invited me. Between them they hauled me off some cloud where I was peacefully bothering nobody, and fixed me up with a helpless needy baby body, and made me dependent on them. They never said, Here's the deal, we look after you till you're not cute any more, then you're on your own. If they had I would have said thanks but no thanks. I'll stay incorporeal on my cloud. It was all their idea. So now they've got me.

Don't get me wrong, this isn't about what happened between the two of them. That's their business. My mother's totally cool about it apart from calling my father "the late" which is relatively modest in the retaliation stakes. You won't hear me sadding on about broken homes either because absolutely nothing is broken and everyone's good friends with everyone and my mother and Gemma are like sisters, particularly now that Gemma is pregnant, though with a considerable age gap. So I come from an expanded home. I like Gemma too, despite not knowing what relation she is to me, maybe step-partner? Also I admit it kind of throws me that she's so attractive, especially when I catch myself looking longer than is strictly polite at her mouth.

My father of course is guilty which is not my problem, and if it makes him more inclined to go on supporting me, why should I complain? It's not such a bad deal for him. A small financial outlay buys him the comforting sense that he's doing his duty. So don't give me a hard time about not getting a job.

This morning, on the day before it begins, I have a premonition. This is not as significant as it sounds. I'm always having premonitions. Like when I see a nice-looking girl coming up an escalator towards me, say, I'll have this premonition that she'll smile at me and I'll get off at the bottom and go up her side and she'll be waiting. Or I get a message to ring home and I have this premonition that a jumbo jet has crashed on our house and all my family are dead and I'm alone in the world and a homeless wanderer. None of these things ever happen but the premonition happens, so maybe the wonders and disasters are still to come, stacked up somewhere in my future. Maybe some time soon they'll all happen at once, in a sequence of rapid-fire explosions like a firework.

This particular premonition is that someone is calling me. I listen, and hear nothing. So then it seems to me not that someone is calling me, but that someone is wanting me. I think about it some more, and realise there isn't a someone, only the wanting. So this is my premonition: I am wanted. This is a new one on me. There's nothing to get excited about in it, so I forget about it. But it doesn't forget about me. It comes back, from time to time, like something I'm supposed to do but have forgotten. It annoys me.

My mother's upset because I don't come down for meals any more. It's not the food I mind, it's her face watching me as if it hurts her just to see me eat. Or not eat. I'm not much of an eater. I prefer to sort it out for myself, without all the fuss and conversation. So long as there's bread and cheese or a bowl of cereal I'm okay. It turns out to be easier to eat at night, when they're all asleep. I don't even switch on the kitchen lights. I just leave the fridge door open and eat by the light that comes out from behind the eggs.

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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