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The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare (Classic, 20th-Century, Penguin) Mass Market Paperback – January 1, 1995

260 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews Review

In an article published the day before his death, G.K. Chesterton called The Man Who Was Thursday "a very melodramatic sort of moonshine." Set in a phantasmagoric London where policemen are poets and anarchists camouflage themselves as, well, anarchists, his 1907 novel offers up one highly colored enigma after another. If that weren't enough, the author also throws in an elephant chase and a hot-air-balloon pursuit in which the pursuers suffer from "the persistent refusal of the balloon to follow the roads, and the still more persistent refusal of the cabmen to follow the balloon."

But Chesterton is also concerned with more serious questions of honor and truth (and less serious ones, perhaps, of duels and dualism). Our hero is Gabriel Syme, a policeman who cannot reveal that his fellow poet Lucian Gregory is an anarchist. In Chesterton's agile, antic hands, Syme is the virtual embodiment of paradox:

He came of a family of cranks, in which all the oldest people had all the newest notions. One of his uncles always walked about without a hat, and another had made an unsuccessful attempt to walk about with a hat and nothing else. His father cultivated art and self-realization; his mother went in for simplicity and hygiene. Hence the child, during his tenderer years, was wholly unacquainted with any drink between the extremes of absinthe and cocoa, of both of which he had a healthy dislike.... Being surrounded with every conceivable kind of revolt from infancy, Gabriel had to revolt into something, so he revolted into the only thing left--sanity.
Elected undercover into the Central European Council of anarchists, Syme must avoid discovery and save the world from any bombings in the offing. As Thursday (each anarchist takes the name of a weekday--the only quotidian thing about this fantasia) does his best to undo his new colleagues, the masks multiply. The question then becomes: Do they reveal or conceal? And who, not to mention what, can be believed? As The Man Who Was Thursday proceeds, it becomes a hilarious numbers game with a more serious undertone--what happens if most members of the council actually turn out to be on the side of right? Chesterton's tour de force is a thriller that is best read slowly, so as to savor his highly anarchic take on anarchy. --Kerry Fried


"A powerful picture of the loneliness and bewilderment which each of us encounters in his single-handed struggle with the universe."
--C. S. Lewis --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Product Details

  • Series: Classic, 20th-Century, Penguin
  • Mass Market Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics (August 7, 1990)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140183884
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140183887
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.5 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (260 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #999,381 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

147 of 154 people found the following review helpful By Gary Bisaga VINE VOICE on February 6, 2002
Format: Mass Market Paperback Verified Purchase
I have just finished this book and have to say, I concur with Kingsley Amis (writer of the introduction) who said that it was the "most thrilling book he has ever read." Chesterton weaves together a combination detective story, wierd dream ("Nightmare" as he says on his cover page), and social commentary. It's certainly not an apologetic book (as C.S. Lewis said, one can't always be defending the faith, sometimes one has to encourage those already converted), but elements of Christianity do come through (especially Chesterton's sensible view that your faith should affect every area of your life and outlook to the world).
The hero, Symes (who is called Thursday) is a detective and a Christian who provokes an anarchist and infiltrates a world-wide underground anarchist society. From there, I won't spoil the story but there are many adventures, twists, and turns. This part I thought very well written. Every new discovery Symes makes literally had me on the edge of my seat. Things become more and more bizarre (right in line with Chesterton's own description of his book as a "Nightmare") until a very bizarre ending that I confess I have still not fully absorbed.
There is a great deal of symbolism and allegory in the book, which is not clear until at least a third of the way through the book. In this way, the book is similar to C.S. Lewis's book "That Hideous Strength" (the third book in his space trilogy that includes "Perelandra"). Like Lewis's book, "Thursday" starts off very realistic (although with some hints of the bizarre twists to come) and gets more and more strange as the book goes on.
Two things that will be helpful to understanding much of the symbolism:
(1) Read the afterword at the end of the book by Chesterton.
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93 of 99 people found the following review helpful By EA Solinas HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on October 10, 2006
Format: Paperback
For a book that's only about a hundred pages long, "The Man Who Was Thursday" is pretty packed.

G.K. Chesterton's classic novella tackles anarchy, social order, God, peace, war, religion, human nature, and a few dozen other weight concepts. And somehow he manages to mash it all together into a delightful satire, full of tongue-in-cheek commentary that is still relevant today.

As the book opens, Gabriel Symes is debating with a soapbox anarchist. The two men impress each other enough that the anarchist introduces Symes to a seven-man council of anarchists, all named after days of the week. In short order, they elect Symes their newest member -- Thursday.

But they don't know that he's also been recruited by an anti-anarchy organization. And soon Symes finds out that he's not the only person on the council who is not what he seems. There are other spies and double-agents, working for the same cause. But who -- and what -- is the jovial, powerful Mr. Sunday, the head of the organization?

Hot air balloons, elaborate disguises, duels and police chases -- Chesterton certainly knew how to keep this novel interesting. Though written almost a century ago, "The Man Who Was Thursday" still feels very fresh. That's partly because of Chesterton's cheery writing... and partly because it's such an intelligent book.

He doesn't avoid some timeless topics that make some people squirm. Humanity (good and bad), anarchy, religion and its place in human nature, and creation versus destruction all get tackled here -- disguised as a comic police investigation. And unlike most satires, it isn't dated; the topics are reflections of humanity and religion, so they're as relevant now as they were in 1908.
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32 of 34 people found the following review helpful By Michael Reid on September 3, 2000
Format: Mass Market Paperback
This wonderful novel is not a detective story; not an allegory; especially not a work of theology. I haven't the audacity to attempt to define what it is. Chesterton did, however, and it's right there in the title: "A Nightmare". The story unfolds as a dream does, illogically and vividly. I approach it (and I have read it many times) as a prose poem, and a picture painted with words. Certainly it shows GKC's intensely visual imagination, and his ability to create a landscape in the mind. It is also an extended commentary on the Book of Job; in both, a mystery is answered with a greater mystery. Thus the enigmatic ending. GKC was a modern mystic, who saw creation as a pageant to be lived - and loved - rather than a propostion to be solved.
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79 of 95 people found the following review helpful By NotATameLion on November 29, 2003
Format: Mass Market Paperback
The thing that strikes me most abut this book is how relevant it is to today even though it was written almost a century ago. The boogyman of that time--the anarchist, has a lot in common with our own chosen boogyman--the terrorist. The response of the "heros" of the book are very similar to the response of the Western World of today: they are all over the map. One could get so caught up in counting similarities and dissecting philosophies, that the biggest, almost garishly glaring fact about The Man Who Was Thursday could be missed: it is a masterpiece.
The Man Who Was Thursday is a tense, masterfully structured thriller that has powerful echoes of the Biblical book of Job. Chesterton subtitled this novel "a nightimare."
The characters of The Man Who Was Thursday move through a world twisted by forces outside of their comprehension. They ultimately encounter the nightmare of a deity-figure who is more of a force of random and capricious nature than a personal being. God's non-answer in the book of Job is amplified to a worldview in The Man Who Was Thursday.
The genius of Chesterton is that his book produces a question in the soul of the attentive reader that demands and points the way to an answer.
This is indeed a book worthy of reading, reflection, and even interaction. It blows through you like a wind that cannot leave what it touches unchanged.
I give The Man Who Was Thursday my highest recommendation.
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