The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare
G. K. Chesterton
Originally published: 1908, England
Rating: 4 (Recommended Reading)
G. K. Chesterton was an unknown author to me when I read this book. I knew from my husband, that Chesterton was an important religious and political author, and that my husband read this book in a class on anarchy in college. I didn’t know what to expect.
The Man Who Was Thursday is about an upstanding citizen, Gabriel Syme, who is recruited by a department of the police who are trying to stamp out anarchy. Through meeting an anarchist speaker in a park and being taken to his anarchist headquarters, Syme is voted onto the lead European anarchist council. After meeting the rest of the council, Syme’s adventure begins. The rest of his time involves fantastic characters and events that range from frightening to hysterical.
I was pleasantly surprised with the humor of this book. The characters are especially entertaining and there are surprising plot points that add to the ridiculousness of all that happens to Syme. While there is certainly important food for thought in this book about anarchy and whether people are naturally good or evil, the book does not belabor these points and is genuinely entertaining. Chesterton’s larger ideas, however, are interesting, and it makes me wonder about the great concerns of each generation. If anarchy, or at least bucking the established order, was a concern in the early 1900s, as it would have been in the time leading up to World War I, what are the big issues of our time? Will today’s issues look as obvious to future generations when viewed with the knowledge of what came next? We’ll have to wait and see, I suppose.
Aside from making me think about larger societal issues, my favorite aspect of this book is the detail that Chesterton gives to the appearance of the characters, the settings, and even the action that makes this book very easy to visualize. Although the ending would be difficult to resolve, this book would make an excellent movie, though from what I’ve researched there is only one, a German film. Someone should undertake an English language adaptation—hint, hint.
There is some antiquated language in the book, and some French, but don’t be intimidated. Context clues work well and a dictionary is always useful for those readers who can’t abide not knowing a word they are reading. This book was written in 1908 and is set in England, so there are some words and allusions that may be lost on the present American reader, but you can catch on easily enough. There is also so much about the language and the humor that is timeless and still as funny today as it would have been then (or even more so from it being antiquated).
This book gets a 4 rating from me because it is an excellently entertaining read. I highly recommend it, and since it is short–just over 100 pages–you really have no excuse.