Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Man Who Was Thursday by G.K. Chesterton

Why should you read The Man Who Was Thursday by G.K. Chesterton? Well, one of the best measures of a book’s strength is its staying power. This book was published over a hundred years ago and people are still talking about it, that’s some serious staying power. Another good reason to read Thursday is that if you are ever at a dinner party or on a date and have an urgent need to say something that makes you sound smart, as long as you preface your statement with, “I was reading The Man Who Was Thursday by Chesterton the other day and…”, you can say anything else and you’ll sound very clever. (I finally understood the metaphysical implications of potholes), (the solution to all the socio-economic difficulties in sub-Saharan became clear to me), (I decided to go with the pistachio ice cream).” Really, the possibilities are endless.

The Man Who Was Thursday was originally published in 1908. The plot centers around the efforts of a British government spy named Syme who is attempting to infiltrate an anarchist plot to disrupt the government. The spy infiltrates a secret cell of seven anarchist leaders and is given the code name of “Thursday” (the other members of the cell are also code named after days of the week). The rest of the book outlines Syme’s attempts to break up the anarchist plot. The story, even though old, has enough twists and turns in it to entertain fans of the thriller genre (I think it does anyway) and in the end it turns out that all the important characters are double crossers and double-double crossers. The best part of Thursday is the absurd chases across England and France; throwing the crazy French into the mix just makes the whole thing a little crazier. The plot twists and turns so quickly that it can be a little difficult to keep track of everything; however, the climactic ending clears everything up, though not in the manner the reader expects. Jack Reacher does not make any appearances in Thursday; I think he would approve of both our hero Syme and his exploits.

Although the plotline for Thursday ostensibly involves anarchists, bombs, and attacks on the French, all of that really serves to illustrate an entirely different point. Chesterton (the author) was a dedicated Christian (although he started out Anglican, he eventually converted to Catholicism) and he wrote the book as an allegorical condemnation of post-modern nihilist philosophy that was quite popular in late 19th century Europe. Chesterton saw the writings and philosophy of people like Nietzche and Wagner as an anarchist attack against the goodness of life. Thus, there are several Christian allegories and themes that play out throughout the book. However, the reader need neither recognize the allegories or care about them in order to enjoy Thursday, and that’s what makes it such a great read. Chesterton was a genius because he was able to write effortlessly on more than one level. One of my favorite things about this book was when I read a passage about anarchists and blowing things up, I would also realize a minute later that it had a double meaning. Secret Code! Fun stuff!

Now that I’ve heaped my praise on the book, I should point out that it was written a hundred years ago, that means there isn’t much blood, no sex, and no Jack Bauer/Chuck Norris style beat downs. So I understand that it may not be for all the readers of this blog. That having been said, give it a read, you’ll be glad you did, and you’ll have lots of clever things to say at dinner parties.

This review was written by The Senator


Christine said...

I've seen this book advertised several times but was not actually attracted to the title. Now you have explained and described the tale of this historical story it will definitely be "a must read" for me. Afterall, it does take place in my homeland and it seems the British ALWAYS have a more intriguing way of telling mysteries with a twisted ending. Thanks for explaining this great title for me.

Sabrina E. Ogden said...

I'm curious, as well. I never would have picked it up if I had seen it a the store, but after reading Cliff's review I'm excited to give it a try. And, I agree, you British people are quite entertaining =)

Sara said...

Sounds like a very interesting book. I love all sorts of books, although I have a hard time with biographies (no offense...they just aren't for me). I love the old books along with all of the great new ones. I will definitely put this on my ever-expanding list of books to read. Good job, Senator :)