The Society of Others
by William Nicholson
This extraordinary novel by William Nicholson (better known as the playwright responsible for Shadowlands and co-screenwriter of Gladiator) is a surprise from start to finish.
The narrator is a young man, passive to the point of inertia, whose motto is 'Life is hard and then you die'. He spends his time in his bedroom doing nothing - really nothing at all - until a pigeon gives him a sign that he should get away. This sets him off on a Kafkaesque journey where he is hurtled from violence to danger and back again via a cast of strange characters. His wry and, at times, very funny commentary reveals his personality (which is actually quite lovable) and its development along the way.
It is a philosophical and spiritual journey and I have to admit that, as someone with a profound distrust of religion, I was tempted to put the book down as soon as the G word was mentioned. I had to remind myself that I read because I want to know what other people have to say and to keep my mind open. I'm glad I did because ultimately it's a thought-provoking book that calls for an oblique and humane perspective on the world. It also engendered a very lively discussion amongst our group.