- 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: 4.8 ounces
- Average Customer Review: 460 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,255,023 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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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
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This free Kindle edition is formatted well and easily readable. It has one paradoxical aspect: it has no introduction. I call it a paradox because without an introduction the reader may become as lost and mystified as the characters in the book, yet with an introduction much of the surprise and suspense in the book would be dissipated. And of course, any comment on Chesterton needs to use the word paradox!
Entertaining, Profound, and Comical. Chesterton transcends time.
'The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare' from 1908 is not all easy to place in just one category. I knew very little of it beforehand; and as I think that is really the best way to read it, I in turn don’t want to reveal too much detail, just write something of my impressions while reading.
Right from the start it struck me as a rather creepily up-to-date read from the aspect that one of its major themes has to do with anarchism/ terrorism and a bomb threat to a major European city. It also crossed my mind quite early on (from a certain scene), that this could well be another bok from which J.K. Rowling may have picked some inspiration for Harry Potter. Later on, I could also clearly see parallells to C.S. Lewis. In spite of the serious (and indeed, as the title suggests, nightmarish) background, and some deeply moral and philosophical discussions – the story does not only keep up a high degree of suspense, but also takes a lot of unexpected twists and turns and offers a good deal of humour. (Sometimes I even laughed out loud.) I found it very hard to put down – I just wanted to keep on reading to see what happened!
A teaser quote: “They were a balconyful of gentlemen overlooking a bright and busy square; but he felt no more safe with them than if they had been a boatful of armed pirates overlooking an empty sea.” (p. 66)
Published in 1908, The Man Who Was Thursday begins with two men, Gabriel Syme ( a poet who believes in law and order) and Lucian Gregory, (a poet and anarchist) meeting in a garden during a party. After a lengthy discussion as to whether Man should be ruled by laws or have free will to rage against the machine, Gabriel accuses Lucian of not being a “real anarchist”. Lucian counters by inviting Gabriel to a secret meeting of anarchists to prove him wrong. At this meeting Lucian is hoping to be elected to the Supreme Council of Anarchists as “Thursday”, one of seven men on the council, each named for a day of the week. The Council, lead by the man named Sunday, is planning to carry through with a planned assassination/bombing.
What transpires next is a humorous, witty, frightening, and often philosophical look at the state of man, war, peace, God, and social order to finally reveal that nothing is as it seems.
Did I mention that the subtitle of the novel is: A Nightmare? That’s because many of the thematic discussions of the novel are pretty relevant today. Some things never change.
For fans of Christian allegory or C.S. Lewis’ Screwtape Papers, this novel will please you to no end. For fans of thought-provoking philosophical discussions that will leave you endlessly pondering the book’s meaning, this will please you to no end.
Chesterton employs subtle and not-so-subtle metaphors that leave you guessing his ultimate goal for the novel. It’s apparent right from the start: Gabriel = Law & Order. Lucian = anarchy/Free-will. Both meeting in A Garden. (I mean, c’mon!) The other members of the Council: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday et all, represent the burning questions of the time: Pessimism or optimism of Modernity; the benefits of scientific materialism; etc. And who is Sunday, the mysterious man who leads the council?
But if you think it’s just that easy, it’s not. There are enough twists and turn, colorful characters and beautiful banter that make this Nightmare a wonderful experience. This is one of those books where you will be looking up words, highlighting passages and writing notes in the margins.
Rare and wonderful is the novel that comes along that, after reading the last word, instantly bestows upon you the desire to read it again. The Man Who Was Thursday is just such a novel.
While some of the events and situations may seem out of date, the novel will certainly provoke further discussion. Want to have fun? Suggest this for your next Book Club read and watch the sparks fly….
5 out of 5 Stars