Title: The Man who was Thursday
Author: G.K Chesterton
On the Shelves: Fiction> Classics
‘”A man’s brain is a bomb,” he cried out, loosening suddenly his strange passion and striking his own skull with violence. “My brain feels like a bomb, night and day. It must expand! It must expand! A man’s brain must expand, if it breaks up the universe”‘
In a park in London, secret policeman Gabriel Syme strikes up a conversation with an anarchist. Sworn to do his duty, Syme uses his new acquaintance to go undercover in Europe’s Central Anarchist Council and infiltrate their deadly mission, even managing to have himself voted to the position of ‘Thursday’. When Syme discovers another undercover policeman on the Council, however, he starts to question his role in their operations. And as a desperate chase across Europe begins, his confusion grows, as well as his confidence in his ability to outwit his enemies. But he has still to face the greatest terror that the Council has: a man named Sunday, whose true nature is worse than Syme could ever have imagined (Goodreads 2014)
This is my first time reading G.K Chesterton. I know of him through his his (paraphrased) quote “Fairy tales are more than true- not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.” (I say paraphrased because the actual quote is: “Fairy tales do not give the child his first idea of bogey. What fairy tales give the child is his first clear idea of the possible defeat of bogey. The baby has known the dragon intimately ever since he had an imagination. What the fairy tale provides for him is a St. George to kill the dragon.” )
Anyway, I decided I wanted to read one of his works and I discovered that The Man who was Thursday was included in the Penguin New English Library, which I am collecting, so I decided to take the plunge.
The actual title of the novel is “The Man who was Thursday: a Nightmare”, and upon reading this book you discover why it is called this- there is no fluid sense of time throughout this novel, which is strange, because it is never really addressed by the author. The characters take car and boat journeys which should take hours and instead of there being the usual gaps between the writing to show a passage of time in between, the story just continues in the very next sentence, which makes it feel instantaneous. I only realised this when I finished the book and in the back of this version, another writer has written a letter to the readers to explain his thoughts on the story, which is where he reminds readers that this is possibly meant to be a “nightmare”, and we don’t know if it is meant to have really happened or not. Is it a nightmare as in the dream away from reality, or is it a nightmare in that the actual story itself would be a nightmare- where the lines between “good” and “evil” blurred, so much so that good can’t recognise it’s own face any more?
So the story follows “Syme”, a newly recruited policeman, who has been assigned to try to infiltrate a group of known anarchists from the inside, in order to attempt to stop their most recent plots to detonate an explosive device and take down their leader, known as Sunday. But, as you can guess from the previous discussion of the “nightmare”, not everything is quite as it seems.
I will say I struggled a little with Chesterton’s writing in this one, I found him to be a little bit dry and it felt like the story was written in bullet points at time, instead of a novel. I’m unsure if I want to read more of his works. But Thursday was also a quick read, perfect for my train journeys and I was interested enough to want to continue all the way through to find out what was going on. I also did guess correctly what was going on at around 60%, but I still was wrapped up in it enough to need to find out for sure.
So this is definitely a bit of a lesser known classic, which I would recommend to those who enjoy thrillers and mysteries, possibly fans of Le Carre and Christie.