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From Barnes & NobleThe Barnes & Noble Review
Reminiscent of Franz Kafka's "Metamorphosis," Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451, and J. D. Salinger's Catcher in the Rye, William Nicholson's Society of Others is an existentialist parable about a nameless man's wayward journey of self-discovery in a dangerous and repressive shadow land.
After recently graduating from college, the cynical and dysfunctional narrator -- a young Brit living with his divorced mother -- has been intently not looking for a job. With a decidedly distorted outlook on life, he decides that there is no reason ever to leave the confines of his small bedroom. ("Love is a mechanism to propagate the species. Beauty is a trick that fades. Friendship is an arrangement of 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 carrying for humankind centuries ago. Wouldn't you? So why leave my room?")
But when persistent pressure from family members -- and an epiphany provided by a pigeon at his bedroom window! -- lead him out into the world, the narrator begins an extraordinary transformation not unlike that of Kafka's ill-fated Gregor Samsa. After hitching a ride with a truck driver secretly hauling banned literature into Eastern Europe, the narrator barely escapes with his life after military police stop the truck, torture and kill the driver, and burn all the books. Tagged a terrorist by the government, the narrator contemplates the intricate nature of his own existence as he desperately tries to stay alive…
Readers who enjoy stories that are as entertaining as they are edifying should definitely seek out this novel -- a philosophical masterwork. Paul Goat Allen
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Readers will feel no guilt, only pleasure, as they race through Nicholson's genre-bending philosophical thriller, a brilliant first novel from the screenwriter of Shadowlands and Gladiator. It's daring and original, reminiscent of an existential fable Dostoevsky might have written if he'd been addicted to CNN and action films.
The anonymous English narrator could be any 20-something slacker in the Western world, until he unwittingly hitches a ride into an unnamed eastern European country. After the authorities torture and kill his driver -- for smuggling in a truckload of books, no less -- the narrator embarks on a violent odyssey through a dark police state. He becomes entangled with terrorists who thrust a gun into his hand, lives underground with kindly peasants after he's nearly killed, and encounters the Society of Others, a literary resistance of philosophers and teachers who seem to have been expecting him. Along his journey, the once-jaded narrator converses with his various companions (and enemies, too) about the ultimate meaning of life, a subject that comes sharply into focus with his life in constant danger.
The Society of Others is ambitious, pithy, and resonant. This debut novel shoots for the moon and hits it dead-on with its clarity of vision and gutsy themes. Bravo, William Nicholson. (Spring 2005 Selection)