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Book Review: The Man Who Was Thursday

man who was thursday

The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare

I spent the first 50 pages of GK Chesteron’s small novel The  Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare trying to figure out what was going on. It was enjoyable, but the reading experience improved when I just said “Okay, whatever,” and just followed the book wherever it wanted to go.

Which was everywhere and nowhere, because I think it works like a nightmare, occasionally bound by certain rules, but allowed to veer off into dark, illogical corridors at any moment, without any explanation.

The Man Who Was Thursday Summary

The book begins with two people debating the sources and virtues of poetry. One of the participants is an anarchist. The other, Syme, will soon find himself up to his neck in them.

For reasons I won’t spoil, Syme finds himself in the stronghold of the anarchists, nervously fingering the revolver in his pocket as he waits to be discovered–he is there on behalf of Scotland Yard. I’ll say that much.

The members of the council are each named after days of the week. They each have a physical peculiarity that revolts Syme. One smiles with only half his mouth; another wears small black glasses that distort his otherwise normal appearance. These scenes reminded me of many David Lynch films in which a particular frame can seem entirely normal–until you notice that one thing that is just a little bit off.

The president’s name is Sunday, and I’ll leave the book to describe him to you. His behavior in the final stage of the book was worth the read all by itself.There are two fantastic chase scenes here. One ends with Sunday escaping into the air. Another begins with an inescapable, ancient man who seems to be everywhere at once, despite walking about as quickly an ant.

Syme unexpectedly finds himself filling the role of the vacant office of Thursday, and as such, is now instrumental in plotting an attack. And stopping it, of course, since he’s working for Law Enforcement.

So far, I have made this sound more linear than it is. Once Syme gets out of the meeting, events unfold that might best be described by: “Wait, what?” This trend continues until the very end, at which point we are so far away from the poetry debate and the anarchist’s council that I have no idea what to say about it, other than that I am definitely going to read this book again to see if earlier clues help make later events more comprehensible.

For all the confusion, the book isn’t challenging and it doesn’t drag. In fact, I don’t know if I’ve ever read 100 more frantic pages in my life, once you get past the poetry debate, and excluding the final 10 pages or so.

Rating: 100 pairs of sinister black sunglasses.


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  • Gustavo June 24, 2011, 5:58 pm

    Nice. I’ll search for the kindle version.

  • Steve M June 25, 2011, 6:13 am

    Many of his fans feel that The Man Who Was Thursday is Chesterton at his very best. (The American Chesterton Society made the novel the theme of its national conference a few years back.) The underlying themes and influences on the novel are profound ones – the books of Genesis and Job, and Chesterton’s own nightmarish spiritual crisis and brush with insanity as a youth.
    If you enjoy mysteries, you might try some of his Father Brown stories. Also, you might like Manalive, a short novel where the hero, Innocent Smith breaks into a house like a thief – but it’s his own house; has a love affair – with his own wife; travels all over, only to be able to come back to his own home to really see it for the first time. Like Thursday, Manalive is wild and crazy on the surface, but really deep and insightful.