“Hovers between the wisecracking observational realism of Salinger and the parable dream space of Kafka. . . . A paean to humanism and perhaps faith.” –Salon
“One part spy novel, one part mystical fable. . . . Forges a provocative amalgam of the humane and the homicidal.” –San Diego Tribune
“Both a joy to read and intellectually challenging.” –The Baltimore Sun
“A smart, engrossing allegorical talea dystopic fable for the twenty-first century.” –Montreal Gazette
"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."
—Piers Paul Read, author of Alive
"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."
—Jill Paton Walsh
"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."
—Peter Stanford, author of Heaven: A Guide to the Undiscovered Country
"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."
—Geoffrey Wansell, Daily Mail
The 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
From Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers
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)
Thus a young man finds that salvation comes from within. Although different people will read the end of his story in different ways, I prefer to think Nicholson's narrator succeeds in escaping from the prison of detachment. When all is said and done, he cares. It's another lesson that doesn't suffer from repetition.
The New York Times
Nicholson's screenplay for Gladiator featured some tight dialogue-also a component of the author's Tony-nominated The Retreat from Moscow on Broadway in 2003. After three YA novels, Nicholson's first-person debut novel for adults rewrites The Stranger for the war on terror era, with mixed results. A young, unnamed, nihilistic British protagonist hitches his way "deep into Europe," his destination determined by the first truck that stops for him. After the truck driver runs a checkpoint in an unnamed former eastern bloc country, the protagonist is abruptly deposited, thrown from the truck moments before it is captured and set ablaze by thugs. Its contraband: books by a politically minded philosopher . It becomes steadily harder to suspend disbelief as the protagonist, with innumerable wry asides, tries to negotiate with the members of a "movement" with whom he falls in, to cope with a murder he has unknowingly committed and to get back across the border. Movement characters like Petra, Egon and Eckhard are little more than props; the philosopher's wisdom, threaded in throughout, doesn't help. 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. Agent, Clare Alexander, Gillon Aitken Assoc. (Jan.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
The alienated, misanthropic narrator of this fabulistic Bildungsroman leaves England one day and sets off without a destination in mind. He hitches a ride with a philosophical truck driver who is smuggling books into a nameless Eastern European dictatorship. When the driver is killed in an ambush by the secret police, the narrator is left to make his way alone, not knowing where he is or how to get home. He first falls in with a gang of violent revolutionaries, only to escape them and befriend a gentle schoolteacher who sees English poetry and the teachings of a native philosopher named Leon Vicino as a way of opposing the state. Then the narrator is captured and seemingly released by the secret police, after which he encounters a priest with a surprising secret. 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. Recommended for public libraries.-Lawrence Rungren, Merrimack Valley Lib. Consortium, Andover, MA Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
From the British playwright, screenwriter, and author of an award-winning children's trilogy: a first adult novel about a hitchhiker's nightmare journey into a police state. He lives with his family but stays in his room, eating alone. Our nameless narrator is a recent college graduate who would rather sponge off his father than job-hunt, his spiritual malaise caused by his parents' divorce. Then he decides to take a trip, no destination in mind. He gets a ride on a truck on a three-day run, speeding through the friendly Europe of euros and open borders to arrive at a grim, heavily guarded frontier. After a difficult crossing, he and the trucker encounter a roadblock manned by armed thugs, where the trucker is tortured and killed, though the hitchhiker jumps free. The thugs burn the books from the truck, but the hitchhiker salvages one (he also has a mysterious envelope given him by the trucker). He walks to the nearest town, where a beautiful young woman contacts him, and he falls asleep in her car. He wakes to find himself in a room with a dead man. Chief of security, says the woman, Petra, member of a revolutionary cell. Those books, written by a gentle humanist now in exile, were intended for readers listed in that mysterious envelope. The hitchhiker has no choice but to join the cell. After another roadblock and shootout, from which the revolutionaries emerge victorious, Petra tortures the lone survivor. That's too much for the hitchhiker, who races into the woods. All this is wonderful dark suspense, but how do you top it? Nicholson peaks too soon, before the halfway point, and the thrill is never quite recaptured in the second half, as the hitchhiker makes discoveries abouthimself, 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. Agent: Clare Alexander/Gillon Aitken Associate