Learn more Shop now Shop now Shop now Shop now Shop now Learn More Shop now Learn more Fire Kids Edition Shop Kindle Listen with Prime Shop now

Customer Reviews

3.6 out of 5 stars
3.6 out of 5 stars
Your rating(Clear)Rate this item

There was a problem filtering reviews right now. Please try again later.

on 16 May 2005
Sometimes you don't choose books, they choose you. So it was with this, a thought-provoking novel that I had never read a review of, never seen, never knew about and whose author was unknown to me. I was browsing a local bookstore, found it staring up at me, read the blurb on the back about a young man (I am one), on a journey through Europe (which I am considering), who finds himself in a Kafkaesque nightmare (I hope I don't!) and rethinks his life (would be nice). So I bought it, and I honestly can hand-on-heart tell you that it has made me completely reassess my relationships with pretty much everybody I know. My family all of a sudden look a great deal better than they did 2 days ago - it sounds callous, but my love and respect for them has grown. I read this book in two sittings, the only reason it took that long was I had to go away and think about some of the story before being prepared to continue.
As a story, Society of Others starts out in a rather plodding way. The first chapter or two there are undertones of that "I want to win a Booker"-style: young man, disenfranchished with life, dislikes his family, life has no direction, etc. I thought I could smell the rest of the story from there. I think at this point I only put the effort in continuing because I related to the character. I underestimated Nicholson as a writer, that isn't where this book heads.
The story isn't like that at at all. It's insane. It's beautiful. It makes no sense, and yet that's the point. In the early chapters there were the subtle undertones of an influence from Banks' 'The Wasp Factory' which were all another red herring (or were they?). It all starts to get uneven, unsettling, unsure... I think that's the point.
The influences here are wide and varied. The narration is often rich, sometimes not particularly well paced, but all rather hypnotic and surreal in its own way - not maddeningly so, but there. The story takes us through a journey that makes no sense yet in the same way, is the only journey that could be taken for this young man.
If this all sounds rather philosophical, rather airy, then yes, that's the point. If you're the sort of person who liked Zen/Motorcycle Maintenance, liked Sophie's World, likes to think, likes to explore your own mind and those of others, this is an enjoyable book. At times it feels like it's trying to be a Clancy or something like Ipcress File, other times it feels like Vonnegut has been at the typewriter and is trying to squeeze some Bokonism in there and other times still it's just a story about a guy who is really, really lost.
And therein lies the clincher - this is all about being lost. It's all about sacrifice and not always the sacrifices you make for others, but those made for you.
I'm going to be reading a lot more Nicholson from now on. I originally considered giving this book 4 stars because the pace shifts and some parts are just wholly unbelievable, and I'm not sure they weren't meant to be. It's hard sometimes to suspend disbelief and there are weak spots here. Whilst the writing sometimes felt patchy to me, on the whole, the overall effect that I walk away with is pretty brilliant. When a novel makes you think a little more about others in the World around you and less about yourself, well, how can you not give it 5 stars?
0Comment| 25 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 3 October 2009
Wallowing in a warm bath of existential angst, the un-named 20 year-old narrator of The Society of Others does not appreciate anything around him - his loving family, his privileged education, his relative wealth, etc., he is just not impressed with being alive. He can barely be bothered to get out of bed in the morning. And then he decides on a whim to set off on an adventure. His father has given him some money to spend however he likes, so he decides to hitch-hike and leave it in the hands of fate where he will end up.

That's how he meets Marker, a Belgian lorry driver, and how he fetches up in a Communist country fleeing for his life across a ploughed field when Marker's lorry is stopped by the police. From there, the events of this novel take on a surreal edge. He is plunged into a series of almost clichéd situations (getting involved in a `terrorist' gang, rescued by simple peasants, saved by an English-speaking school-teacher - it sometimes reads like the kind of thriller you buy in an airport when you're desperate for something to keep your mind off the corporeality of the self in relation to several tons of metal and air), but somehow you keep reading. The power of art - books, poetry, music, painting - runs through this novel in multiple strands as, again and again our protagonist is thrown up against questions of philosophy, religion and what it means to be alive. Thus we have the strange juxtaposition of thriller action, along with surprisingly involving intellectual and artistic propositions.

I am impatient with novels which refuse to name the protagonist of their story (why not just call him Joe or Jack and have done with it!), and wary of books which purport to impart to their reader messages of great philosophical meaning. But, against all my prejudices, I had to keep reading. The messages do get across, but how can a book with such a contradictory internal construction work? Well, it can't, not really. In the end something has to give, and it is the ending that lets the whole scenario down with, not so much a bang, as a grandiose moment of semi-bafflement. Marrying the thriller to philosophy is an intriguing ambition, but it sets the writer a conundrum. Does one go for a realistic, or a (more honest yet less satisfying) philosophic ending? Given that Nicholson started with realism, it might have been better for the shape and direction of the book if he had also ended with it.

However, I would still recommend this book. It is not so much the destination that is important as what is learned on the journey. Nicholson writes with great energy, intensity and - it feels to me - enjoyment. Yes, the strain of his contradictory elements tests the reader's belief, but Nicholson puts his head down and just goes with the flow and, amazingly enough, it almost works. That is, it works enough to make this book a thoroughly intriguing and often enjoyable read.
0Comment| 2 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 29 April 2007
Mr. Nicholson decides to leave The Society of Others' main character nameless, and this seems to suit him. He, the main character, starts the story as an aimless twenty/thirtysomething. His philosophy of apathy sees him locked away from the world in his bedroom at his parents' house, spending his days with the television on, but the sound down.

The story kicks into gear when the desire grabs the character, of a sudden, to get out of the house and away. Not to go anywhere in particular, but just to travel for the sake of it. This new, no-strings wanderlust sees him dumped in an East European country - again, unnamed - of the decaying, former Soviet variety. Against this backdrop, one of a violent police/gangster state and a backroom rebellious intelligenstia, our character goes through a series of personal revelations and 'awakenings'. Overlaid on this is a higher, more peculiar sense that he's seen all of this before, despite never having come to the country previously.

The tale thunders along, gathering pace from the brilliantly observed mundanity at the beginning of the book, to a ludicrous, psychedelic/existential unravelling at the end. It's this, the book's bodge-it-and-run end, which has cost the rating I've given the book a good two stars. It left me wondering precisely what the author's point was and whether he was unable to cope with the drive and scope of his own writing to that point.

In spite of this, Mr. Nicholson wins back an extra star or two because his book has the magic cannot-put-down factor which is surely the ultimate test of any novel. His writing has an irresistable pace and energy. It's a shame, then, that this momentum peters out in such a diffuse and puzzling way.

It's testement to Mr. Nicholson's skill that I felt a lot in common with what went on in the character's head before his adventure. The series of personal, almost spiritual revelations experienced by him smacked slightly of more insidious, cultish works like the Celestine Prophecy and so the more the character developed, the more I disassociated myself from him.

Borrow or buy on budget, but be prepared for the damp squib ending.
0Comment| 4 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 22 September 2008
The Society of Others spoke more to me than anything else I've read in a decade. While it works at a plethora of levels, it is essentially about individuals and their relationship with their State, political entities that (worldwide) may be seen as increasingly controlling, interventionist, repressive and dehumanising. It dawns on you, as the journey unfolds, that the Stalinesque/Mugabe-ish state in which the central character finds himself marooned is your country, no matter where you are and that our salvation, as human beings, resides in our relationships and capacity to value the wonder to be found in others. A minor masterpiece. The publishers would do well to send every head of state a copy.
0Comment| 2 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 13 January 2012
I read this because a columnist on The Daily Telegraph over Christmas wrote how much she likes Nicholson, and I was in for a surprise, if not a shock. I was also looking for a mental palate cleanser to start the New Year! Having travelled extensively in the formerly communist countries of eastern Europe in the 1980's, I recognised the society Nicholson describes, save that they were so controlled that those countries had no significant terrorism or armed resistance. The strange journey our unnamed hero is taken on (only the passive is appropriate to describe what happens to him; he seems to will nothing) is merely a device to describe his rebirth ('reincarnation' is a word that appears frequently in the book) from adolescence and cynical dependency to adulthood and principled self-sufficiency. The unnamed subject (hero would not be the right word) falls into the care of a series of individuals all of whom have a very different relationship to the state and 'the society of others' but all of whom seem, altruistically, to have his best interests at heart. The point is that no person is an island; indeed, we are all on an unstoppable voyage at the mercy of the winds. Of course, Nicholson does not mean us to take the adventure seriously or literally: we could pinch ourselves and wake from his dreamlike or nightmarish world in an instant, but somehow we don't want to. On top of all this, this is a page-turner. I have to dock the novel just one star because, like other reviewers, I found the ending a touch weak.
0Comment| One person found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 30 March 2004
A series of most beautifully written surprises. Bored, aimless, the central character sets out and takes with him the lucky reader. Adventure, suspense and seriously funny and well related observation make this a fly-through read, but one that'll echo back at you for ages after as the insights flung at you like gifts from an author with gifts to burn, so quickly as the plot runs on, will leave you in a gentle state of surprise for days. Intelligent and fun, one of those books you'll lend out readily, then fear for its safe return. I'd love to tell you more as I enjoyed the book so much, but evey little thing in it is so core to the plot that it'd ruin it. A very, very special book! Perfect.
0Comment| 12 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 17 February 2012
I first read this book in 2005 and have re-read it ten times since. It's a truly magnificent, thought provoking read and should be issued to all 18yr olds by right.
0Comment| One person found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 10 January 2005
One of the best books i have read for ages, so far removed from the 'wind on fire' trilogy it reads almost like a different author.
It's brilliantly written, you can feel how every insight effects and matures the central character throughout the book. As he developed and began to understand things in the world around him, I found myself thinking about my own life and my 'purpose' in it.
For me the ending of the book lacked the punch I was hoping for. The books so enlightening and thought provoking I was hoping to be blown away at the end and in that it fell slightly short.
However, I still loved it, i devoured the book in only a few days and I can see me turning to this book time and time again.
0Comment| One person found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 26 October 2005
this book could have been so much better than it was. it started off well but gradually slid into the absurd and unrealistic. the ending lacked any real "revelation" and the twist you thought was coming all through the book didnt come at all.
all in all disappointing and rather confusing - was he really there? asleep? or just daydreaming in the art gallery?
it asked some good philosophical questions but these werent paced well and didnt really give the reader time to reflect before being shunted into the next unrealistic event.
a good idea but it could have been so much better.
0Comment| 3 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on 2 September 2005
I thought this book started out rather well as a picture of a young man grappling with Camusian absurdity. But it quickly deteriorates into a wearing, sub-Orwell fantasy set in some cliched Godot-ish Eurowasteland with the usual 'Allo Allo'-style resistance and jackbooted thought police. The philosophy, which can be summed up in the phrase 'sometimes you have to go away to discover what's really important', is trite and irritating.
0Comment| 2 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse

Customers also viewed these items


Need customer service? Click here