The Society of Others

There are, in my opinion, a few ways you can enjoy a book. Number one for me is the story and it’s flow. I can forget, actually often don’t notice, how well/badly written it is in terms of phrases and wording, if I’m engrossed by the story and can’t wait to know where it’s going, I’m happy.

There’s also the very well written ones where the story might be somewhat boring but you’re going from brilliant turn of phrase to erudite wordings and bon mots and you’re engrossed with that enough to not care if it takes 300 pages to detail one night.

You can also simply enjoy what’s behind the writing, the thoughts, philosophy, teaching, whatever, that the writer is passing along or thinking about “out loud”.

Those three aspects aren’t mutually exclusive and can be grouped in varying manners but I find I rarely have the pleasure of reading the same book in those three ways. The Society of Others is one of those. Great story and flow, lots of phrases and paragraphs that I re-read or marked for the future and bits that made me think a lot more than most much more openly philosophical books. It’s on the very short list of books I plan to re-read.

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 tried 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 fairytale, bursting with art, poetry, music and ideas.