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The Society of Othersby William Nicholson
"As The Society of Others progresses, it becomes clear what message Nicholson is trying to convey, but the novel doesn't feel claustrophobic or preordained as a result. It always seems capable of surprise, of taking an unexpected turn — extremely difficult to pull off in a work that also reaches for the quality of a fable....It's a strange ambition, to take a literary style associated with existential despair and enlist it in the cause of hope, but as Nicholson's hero wanders through the cobblestone streets of his newfound dystopia, he brings with him a glimmer of something new and exhilarating: freedom." Laura Miller, Salon.com (read the entire Salon.com review)
Synopses & Reviews
New fiction from the screenwriter of the Academy Award-winning Gladiator.
The nameless narrator of The Society of Others is an alienated youngster who sees no meaning in life. He doesn't even see the point of getting out of bed in the morning. To get his nagging family off his back he embarks on an aimless hitchhiking adventure. When he is picked up on the highway on the way to the Channel Tunnel by a truck driver spouting Descartes and Kant, it seems as if he is at the start of a picaresque coming-of-age journey around Europe. But then the truck reaches the border of a repressive European state and the narrator watches in terror as the driver is tortured and killed by a sinister band of men in black bomber jackets. What was so dangerous to this country's regime in the cache of banned books he was smuggling in to the country?
With all the pace and thrust of a thriller, the hero is propelled into a dizzying sequence of increasingly terrifying Kafka-esque adventures, as he tries to understand the bloody struggle between the regime's secret police and a band of equally ruthless and fanatical freedom fighters, and his own role in that struggle. Written to be read at several different levels and to provoke debate, this novel is also a moral fairy tale, bursting with art, poetry, music and ideas.
"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.)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"[W]onderful dark suspense....
"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." Library Journal
"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
"Even for the reader-convert who welcomes such spiritual growth and such changes of heart, The Society of Others is often awkward in its philosophical posturing." Janet Maslin, The New York Times
With all the pace and thrust of a thriller, the hero in The Society of Others is propelled into a dizzying sequence of increasingly terrifying Kafka-esque adventures as he tries to understand the bloody struggle between secret police and a band of equally ruthless and fanatical freedom fighters, and his own role in that struggle.
About the Author
William Nicholson is a highly sought-after Hollywood screenwriter whose work on Gladiator helped garnered the film an Oscar. He is also the bestselling and award-winning children's author of the Wind Singer trilogy. He lives in East Sussex with his wife and their three children.
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