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The Thanatos Syndrome

3.56  ·  Rating details ·  1,690 ratings  ·  144 reviews
The 1990s. Euthanasia and quarantines for AIDS have become the norm. But can even this world sanction a substance that "improves" people's behavior and so reduces crime, unemployment and teen pregnancy? A riveting bestseller by the author of The Moviegoer.
Paperback, 384 pages
Published September 4th 1999 by Picador USA (first published 1987)
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Average rating 3.56  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,690 ratings  ·  144 reviews

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Oct 28, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2016
"It is not for me to say whether one should try to be happy -- although it always struck me as an odd pursuit, like trying to be blue-eyed--"
--Walker Percy, The Thanatos Syndrome.


Probably 3.5 stars. Not my favorite Walker Percy, and definitely not the one to start with. It starts with dark humor and absurdism and twists into a creepy weird horror show and slowly wades the reader back out.

I get what Percy was doing here. I really do. I get the metaphor, but ye gads, it wasn't exactly a joyride.
Angus McKeogh
Jun 14, 2016 rated it really liked it
Pleasantly surprised. I'll admit I was assigned this book in a Southern Lit class at university and never read it. The best part is there's an interesting overlying story on top of the underlying literary allusions. Entertaining and strange. I really liked it. Will definitely have to read his award winner, The Moviegoer.
Simon Robs
Dec 21, 2017 rated it it was ok
I like Walker Percy's books on whole, but this, his last novel, is rather disappointing in many ways; it does not sum nor does it edify all that came before as some final novelistic efforts do. He seems lethargic about his topics/themes even though they are quite controversial themselves i.e. euthanasia, pedophilia, social engineering, genocide and loss of self. His characters still exhibit that "southern type" thing that run throughout all his books but they are let down by the inconstancy of ...more
Not exactly what you'd expect from Walker Percy, and the GoodReads write-up doesn't begin to give you a sense of what this book is about (for starters, it's published in the '80s so someone should fix that blurb!), The Thanatos Syndrome sounds like a Ludlum novel from the get-go and reads a little like one, too, although a less-forumulaic Ludlum novel penned by a far more literary author.

I read it in Nepal back in 1988, a brand-new paperback sent to me by Tom Yates that I sold off a few weeks
Jennifer A.
Feb 16, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Not sure why, as an one-time English major with a brother who loved this author's books, it's taken me so long to discover Walker Percy. An amazing read. At one point near the end it got pretty disturbing, but the questions he raises about life and death are important and fascinating. I was also intrigued by one character's harangue which included this:

"These are strange times. There are now two kinds of people. This has never happened before. One are decent, tenderhearted, unbelieving,
Jerry Balzano
Dec 19, 2011 rated it really liked it
An utterly fascinating read! great story, great characters, air of mystery, sense of humor ... my pleasant surprise of the holidays so far!

The above paragraph is something I wrote 40% of the way through the book, which I've now finished. I suppose there was no way it could have lived up to the high expectations it engendered, but I'm still giving it 3.5-to-4 stars.

Despite my generally tolerant view toward books with "disturbing" content, I have to say I was somewhat rattled by this one. I
Jun 09, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: classics, novels
Here Percy is profound: psychologically astute and socially prescient. He knows people--the human condition, our querks, our excuses, our dilemmas. He knows us inside and out. And in _The Thanatos Syndrome_, Percy puts his own medical-school knowledge to work through his main character Tom More, M.D., a floundering psychiatrist, and numerous other medically-inclined characters dealing with (ahem) a syndrome.

Percy is smart--he doesn't need me to tell him so (especially, alas, post mortem). In
Ron Hefner
Jan 30, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I posted that I first read this book in 1995 and "finished" it in 2011. That's not really accurate. Actually, I've read it three times, and I'm sure I'll read it again.

I believe that Walker Percy is one of the greatest novelists of the 20th century. No other writer has been able to explore existential themes and religious / moral themes with such humor and insight. But he doesn't preach. Rather, he draws us in with memorable characters and compelling stories. And he entertains!
When you finish
Lance Kinzer
Jun 30, 2013 rated it really liked it
Re-reading all of Percy's novels this summer has been a joy, and here he is outstanding as usual. There are aspects of this book that remind me of C.S. Lewis in That Hideous Strength - but Percy is the more profound novelist. Percy writes of a world in which "Reason warred with faith. Science triumphed. The upshot? One hundred million dead." In a world where an odd admixture of tenderness and utilitarianism reigns, the result is moral blindness tending to unspeakable crimes (a word of warning - ...more
May 21, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: book-club
Read for book club.

It had some good points, but I thought the story was disjointed the narrative voice was uncomfortable, and the ending was absurd. I was glad when it was over.
Father Nick
Percy managed to craft something quite different from his other novels--this has more of the feel of a suspense novel than his other writing. Dr More takes on the role of a kind of psychiatric detective. The dialogue is terse and sometimes runs for pages without the philosophical asides I found so characteristic of the Moviegoer or Love in the Ruins. It is also far more bleak; much like Father Smith's insistence that "tenderness leads to the gas chamber," Percy makes an analagous point about the ...more
I have so many mixed feelings about Walker Percy. I love his ideas and have enjoyed his nonfiction. But when I read his fiction I just can't get into it. There isn't that much difference between reading his novels vs reading his essays. His characters strike me as rather bland, and are a bit too prone to revealing the plot and thematic elements in unbelievable dialogue.

It's quite possible that I am revealing a deficiency in myself in saying I don't like Percy's fiction, but there it is.
Hank Pharis
Jan 25, 2020 rated it liked it
(NOTE: I'm stingy with stars. For me 2 stars means a good book or a B. 3 stars means a very good book or a B+. 4 stars means an outstanding book or an A {only about 5% of the books I read merit 4 stars}. 5 stars means an all time favorite or an A+ {Only one of 400 or 500 books rates this!).

The story is better in this one but my focus was on trying to understand what Percy was deeper meaning.

The quotes below are from “Walker Percy: The Hopeful Dystopian” by Daniel Ritchie (Christianity Today
C.B. Murphy
May 07, 2019 rated it really liked it
Quite a fun read. competent literary author attempting a “thriller” ... i think he may have used more ingredients for the stew than was necessary and a bit overkillish. but i like his writing and have read others by him
Stephen Gallup
Jul 30, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is nominally a sequel to Love in the Ruins, in that we have the same main character, Dr. Thomas More, and there are one or two passing references to events in the earlier book. The main connection between the two, however, is that once again More perceives something new and very unusual in the people around him -- and apparently nobody else has the slightest interest.

I've seen reviews that call Percy's books thrillers. I don't think the level of excitement rises to that standard, because
Matthew Klobucher
Jun 25, 2009 rated it really liked it
Walker Percy has deftly combined the satisfying nostalgia of a Southern Novel with the excitement and tension of a medical-disease caper. Written from the wryly amusing and common-sense perspective of Dr. Tom More, a disgraced psychiatrist with a history both of medical breakthroughs and of alcoholism and drug use, the story sets itself firmly in the superstitious and historically rooted society of southern Louisiana. As he resumes his practice, Dr. More discovers some disturbing symptoms. ...more
Feb 03, 2018 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This was about 98% too long.
Stephen Gibbs
Jun 28, 2017 rated it liked it
"That Hideous Strength" set in Louisiana. Percy's pacing and plotting suffers, but the retrospectives on humanism's spiral into a technocratic, eugenically-minded world are prescient and very good.
Kirk Smith
Jan 12, 2014 rated it really liked it
There is a lot going on in this book and I would just throw up a lot of spoilers if I try. Suffice it to say that Walker Percy is a gentleman and he always writes a good book.
Nathan Albright
Dec 18, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: challenge-2019
It appears as if this novel is part of the same series as Love In The Ruins, especially as both have as their lead character one Thomas More, and it would seem a bit lazy for an author to have a lead character with the same name and similar viewpoint but different over the course of one's novels. I'm not sure how I feel about Thomas More as a hero. Having read two novels with him, I can see that he is probably a stand-in for the author in being intelligent and somewhat stubborn but also ...more
Jan 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing
My favorite Walker Percy so far. I started out with The Moviegoer, like you're supposed to -- I found it underwhelming. OK, but nothing special. Then I read Lancelot, which was a big ol' punch in the gut of a novel, but I respected it -- like after a pungent olive, your palate felt clearer for the experience. The Thanatos Syndrome sort of reads like Percy's take on That Hideous Strength, except the human depravity that is hinted at in Lewis is shown here in big, bold, Fellini-esque technicolor. ...more
Jun 13, 2019 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2019
I am having trouble deciding how I feel about this read. It's a bit extraordinary. The writing is tight and well-done, no complaints there from me. I laughed out loud. I felt confused at times. I was horrified at other times. I deeply enjoyed some of the characters. It's a complex tale, a philosophical treatise, bordering on the existential - about history, religion, science including Louisiana culture and tradition, Catholicism, the meaning of life, euthanasia of elders and children, AIDS, ...more
Jun 12, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: read-in-2017
I've been excited to read a Walker Percy book for a long time . . . but gosh, it was terrible to read. So. Many. Words. Particularly names, unnecessary names, names that you don't know and don't make sense. I was disappointed by the story, too - I think the central plot point is interesting, but the linguistic part of the plot that's so talked up is fairly shallow, after all, and as a linguistic enthusiast, I really wanted it to be cooler. I appreciate the book as commentary on society, but ...more
Nov 26, 2018 rated it really liked it
This was a nasty and difficult book at times because its themes are so suddenly and unexpectedly dark. (Mainly the pedophilia.) Still, this is far better than Love in the Ruins. Percy uses this really strange technique, where the narrative persona's motives are totally opaque, even though he is narrating first person. Most of the time, the main character is doing things that he is not explaining to you, but doing them to and with people he is describing to you with utter clarity. It's an odd ...more
Jim Jones
Jan 08, 2019 rated it liked it
My goodness, what a strange book. I've never been able to make it through a Walker Percy novel, so this is a first. I enjoyed it, but its portrayal of a slightly dystopian American south seemed dated and almost too cartoonish at times. However, the story is pretty interesting and it moves along quickly. If you don't mind some Catholic theology thrown into your story, I would recommend it as literary thriller.
Jun 04, 2019 rated it really liked it
3 1/2 stars. Some beautiful writing. Creepy, Dystopian-themed story. Set in Louisiana, and it was to read a story set there after I just visited a few months ago (indeed, it helped the story make sense). Some moments of profundity, a lot to think about. Some of the points seemed a little disjointed and perhaps forced, but overall, I really enjoyed this first foray of mine into Walker Percy.
Jack Swanzy
Feb 03, 2019 rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Aug 04, 2019 rated it it was ok
Shelves: did-not-finish
Could not keep at this one right now. Interesting writing and premise, but my summer brain couldn't go there.
Aug 25, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
People start behaving in weird ways and a psychiatrist tries to figure out why.
Christian Schwoerke
Mar 18, 2014 rated it liked it
I’ve read most of Percy’s other books—my favorites being Love in the Ruins and The Moviegoer (with a special fondness for his venture into semiotics and philosophy, Message in the Bottle)—but all this took place more than 25 years ago, and my recollections are hazy. The later novels (Second Coming and Lancelot went down easily, as I recall, but left me wanting), so I was not sure what to expect of this last (?) novel, read so many years after my last Percy experience.

The voice and the setting
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Bayous & Psychotics 2 7 May 14, 2011 12:59PM  

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Walker Percy (1916–1990) was one of the most prominent American writers of the twentieth century. Born in Birmingham, Alabama, he was the oldest of three brothers in an established Southern family that contained both a Civil War hero and a US senator. Acclaimed for his poetic style and moving depictions of the alienation of modern American culture, Percy was the bestselling author of six fiction ...more
“Small disconnected facts, if you take note of them, have a way of becoming connected.” 30 likes
“You are a member of the first generation of doctors in the history of medicine to turn their backs on the oath of Hippocrates and kill millions of old useless people, unborn children, born malformed children, for the good of mankind —and to do so without a single murmur from one of you. Not a single letter of protest in the august New England Journal of Medicine. And do you know what you’re going to end up doing? You a graduate of Harvard and a reader of the New York Times and a member of the Ford Foundation’s Program for the Third World? Do you know what is going to happen to you? . . . You’re going to end up killing Jews.” 5 likes
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