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The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare (Classic, 20th-Century, Penguin) Mass Market Paperback – January 1, 1995
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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 Kindle Edition edition.
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The writing in this story is simply fantastic. Things like "we came out on a full-moon lit night, which ordinary circumstances would find romantic; for us, however, the landscape was more as if lit by a dead sun" make the hairs on your neck stand on end. This is the kind of writing---evocative, provocative, eloquent---that is so rare today. G.K. Chesterton's style is indeed elegant, yet follows the mannerisms of the characters active at different points of the story. He always lets us in on that part of the secret.
The reading is, quite honestly, a little winding at times; stick it out. You will learn new words! I can not recommend this book enough. I've already given out three copies and sent another to my sister-in-law for her Kindle.
Whichever side of the anarchy/anti-anarchy, too-much-government/too-little-government, government-as-evil-controller/government-as-saviour you may be on, you will find comfort and kindred souls here. A masterpiece. G.K. is a master of the written word as well as of human thought and emotion; our current troubled times deserve to re-discover this great talent. I urge you to find him at [...] at once.
This was one of Kingsley Amis's favorite books --- a bit of a surprise, there! I would guess that Amis was mainly seduced by the gloriously inventive prose, but Amis himself says that he was drawn in by the completely original, Alice-in-Wonderland plot.
And when you're done, you will probably be thinking about two of the main "issues" of the human condition: burning issues that are often turned into dry dust by academic philosophers: free will and the problem of evil. Aren't they related? Leaving aside natural disasters and "acts of God," how can we possibly account for the horrors of the 20th century, and the millions and millions massacred by that century's slave-drivers? The Chestertonian answer is, I suspect, the Christian answer: God would not have bothered to create a race of robots, but instead created man in His own image --- free to choose, and free to act. What follows from that, as night follows the day, is that SOME human beings will choose to do wicked and evil things.
I also find it interesting that Ezra Pound and his circle positively LOATHED G. K. Chesterton, as some sort of backward bourgeois humbug. Well, time will tell. :-)
A very entertaining and stimulating read! Don't miss it, and don't miss Chesterton!
The Man who was Thursday follows Gabriel Syme, a man who gets involved with a group of anarchists. It has some crazy twists and turns, fun characters, and above all some great lines Chesterton. But it is the type of thing that only people who love a little craziness in their fiction will enjoy.