The Man Who Was Thursday by G. K. Chesterson

The Man Who Was ThursdayInformation

Goodreads: The Man Who Was Thursday
Series: None
Source: DailyLit
Published: 1908

Official Summary

from the American Library edition

G. K. Chesterton’s surreal masterpiece is a psychological thriller that centers on seven anarchists in turn-of-the-century London who call themselves by the names of the days of the week. Chesterton explores the meanings of their disguised identities in what is a fascinating mystery and, ultimately, a spellbinding allegory.

As Jonathan Lethem remarks in his Introduction, The real characters are the ideas. Chesterton’s nutty agenda is really quite simple: to expose moral relativism and parlor nihilism for the devils he believes them to be. This wouldn’t be interesting at all, though, if he didn’t also show such passion for giving the devil his due. He animates the forces of chaos and anarchy with every ounce of imaginative verve and rhetorical force in his body.

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I first read The Man Who Was Thursday about six years ago, but this was a welcome re-read.  Enough time has past that I’d forgotten the finer details of the story (indeed, for a while I pondered whether I had even read the book at all, but Goodreads confirms that I have), but the re-read allowed me the opportunity to see more of the nuances of the work and get a better understanding of it.  Yet I would still say the great strength of the story is that it seems to be both an obvious allegory for humans’ relationship with God and something of an enigma; no matter how many times I read it, I think there will always be something more to discover.

The opening of the story is not religious at all, and I think anyone who might be put off by the idea that Chesteron was a “‘lay theologian” should note that the majority of the book does not read as if Chesterton is trying to impart some message.  Rather, most of the story is mystery and adventure.  Protagonist Gabriel Syme, a professed lover of order, finds himself joining a group of anarchists and must figure out how to undermine the group while maintaining his disguise as one of them and without breaking an oath he made to report them to the police. (A seemingly convenient oath for the sake of the plot, but I can accept it.)  So much of the book is a mix of puzzles, maneuverings, and even chase scenes through the streets, and it’s entirely exciting.

The “message,” if one will, only really comes at the end, when Syme and other characters try to work through what the “meaning” was of everything they have done and all the other people they have met (a perennial human question, really).  It is here where Chesteron seems at once heavy-handed, telling readers what some of the answers are, and as if he is holding something back.  Perhaps this itself is simply a representation of the fact that one can never truly know God, the meaning of life, etc., but it certainly makes for a thought-provoking story.

This is one of those rare books that will sit with me for a while and that has raised enough questions that I’d love to see others’ thoughts.  I think the base themes of the story are pretty clear, but I’d love to read some scholarship on The Man Who Was Thursday to see what other readers have pulled out, and it’s times like these that I’m truly disappointed I no longer has access to university scholarly databases.  This is definitely a recommended read from me.  It’s short, and it’s interesting, and I don’t think anyone need be put off by fears it’s “too religious.”

4 stars Briana

Mini Reviews (3)

I Am Pusheen the Cat by Claire Belton

This collection contains a fair number of the popular Pusheen comics.  It has jokes about the weird habits of cats, holiday illustrations, and even a section devoted to Pusheen’s fluffy sister Stormy.  It is equally humorous and delightful.  And, of course, utterly cute.  Cat lovers everywhere will appreciate it, but others may find themselves falling in love with Pusheen, as well. (Source: Gift) Four stars.

The Club of Queer Trades by G. K. Chesterton

This short story collection contains mysteries that feature the men who comprise the titular Club of Queer Trades and make their livings in a manner which they themselves invented.  Narrated by a man called Swinburne, who repeatedly finds himself caught up in adventures he cannot understand, the stories really star Basil Grant, a judge who left the bench after “going mad.”  It quickly becomes apparent, however, that Basil may be the one sane man in a world gone mad around him.  He believes in morality and solves mysteries by eschewing the cold logic of Sherlock Holmes and instead opening himself up to the possibilities that cannot be contained by logic.  The resulting stories are equally fun and fantastic, reminding readers to open themselves up to the romance around them. (Source: Library) Four stars.

The Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other Stories by Susanna Clarke

Not having read Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, I was not sure what to expect from a short story collection of Susanna Clarke’s.  However, I was immediately disarmed, for I found myself immersed in a delightful collection of fairy stories in the finest tradition.  Some are retellings of familiar tales such as “Rumpelstiltskin.”  Others are set in the world of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell.  One story is even set in Neil Gaiman’s world of Stardust.  Each, however, has that air of coming from a long line of folklorists, told at night by the fireplace or passed down through the generations.  They feel like the real thing.

Oddly enough, however, the cover bears two blurbs comparing the work to Jane Austen.  I can only imagine that people see a story set in the 18th century or read a story with “old timey” language and immediately think to themselves, “But, of course, it’s Austen!”  It really isn’t.  The work bears no resemblance, in my opinion, to Austen’s witty social critiques or romances.  There is humor here, but it’s more in the counterfeiting of language associated with old-fashioned scholars.  The rest feels like traditional fairy tales, just set in a later age than perhaps we are used to seeing.  (Source: Gift)  Five stars.

The Man with Two Left Feet by P. G. Wodehouse

Humorist P. G. Wodehouse presents a short story collection full of surprises.  From the tale of an ugly policeman who falls in love to the story of a mediocre detective who dreams of going on the stage, each work is delightfully unexpected, full of witty one-liners, and peopled by characters who can’t help but grab the readers’ interest.  Bertie Wooster also makes his first appearance here, making the story of special interest to fans of Jeeves and Wooster.  This is just the type of work to lift your spirits and make you hunt for more Wodehouse immediately.  (Source: Library)  Five stars.