Tags

, , ,

The name GK Chesterton was one I was familiar with for years without actually knowing very much about the man or his work, but on finding The Man who was Thursday (Pocket Penguin Classics) in my local library I was immediately curious to know more. Can there be a more arresting title, one so mysteriously evocative, thrilling even? Indeed, Kingsley Amis, in his introduction, says that the person who doesn’t feel a faint tingle of excitement and breath of wonder at the title is not really a fit person to be reading the book. If ever a potential reader needed encouragement, that was surely it. And how right he was. This is a hysterical, imaginative and extravagantly satirical novel which is ultimately quite affecting. Protagonist Gabriel Syme, having been recruited to the anti-anarchist branch of Scotland Yard, finds himself by turns elected to the anarchists’ council, each member of which is named after a day of the week. Thus he becomes the “Thursday” of the title and so begins a mad, surreal thriller through the streets of Edwardian London and beyond. The delight here is in being swept along by a true storyteller, with style and intelligence, one who knows they are master of language and plot, with a sense of purpose which drives the narrative until the final page.  On one level this is a strongly allegorical work, meditating on the nature of good and evil. Given Chesterton’s body of work, many have read a specifically Christian narrative into the novel. The “Sunday” character, terrifying and enigmatic throughout, could be seen as the supreme embodiment of either good or evil. However, his own response which was first published in the London Illustrated News, and which is now included at the end of the book, is critical of those who would take the wrong meaning from the novel. The clue Chesterton says is in the full title which reads The Man who was Thursday: a Nightmare.

Advertisements