Of G. K. Chesterton’s thousands of books, essays, short stories, and poems, the greatest is The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare. Draped in the luxurious cloth of Edwardian thriller, this seminal story is actually a metaphysical argument between law and revolt, with a smattering of Christian theology thrown into the mix. As luxurious as its prose is Walter Covell’s performance of the text. Using a precise British accent, Covell conveys the action as if he is seated upon a swivel chair three feet above its unfolding. Sit back as men who represent days of the week strip the facades from their true beings.
This is Chesterton's most famous novel. Never out of print since it was first published in 1908, critics immediately hailed it as "amazingly clever", "a remarkable acrobatic performance", and "a scurrying, door-slamming farce that ends like a chapter in the Apocalypse". One reviewer described how he had read it in one sitting and put it down, "completely dazed".
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"This book is Chesterton at his best. Every scene is perfect. Every line is a gem." (The American Chesterton Society)
"Gilbert Keith Chesterton's tale, The Man Who Was Thursday is an intriguing story about a group of anarchists and one man's endeavor to uncover their nefarious plot. Part mystery and part social commentary, this is a delightfully funny foray into turn of the century (19th) London that is as relevant today as it was in 1908, when it was first published. Bizarre, hilarious, and a real page turner, this is one of those books to add to your list of books to have with you should you ever be stranded on a desert island, for with every reading you will ferret out more elements of the mystery, as well as the nuances of Chesterton's social and political commentaries that run as an unobtrusive commentary throughout this unique and deceptively complex novel." (Fritz du Trey)
"It is very difficult to classify The Man Who Was Thursday. It is possible to say that it is a gripping adventure story of murderous criminals and brilliant policemen; but it was to be expected that the author of the Father Brown stories should tell a detective story like no-one else. On this level, therefore, The Man Who Was Thursday succeeds superbly; if nothing else, it is a magnificent tour-de-force of suspense-writing." (World Wide School Library)
The novel starts as an amusing farce about anarchists and the police infiltrating their organization. The first half of the novel is quite worth hearing. But then the plot becomes more and more wild and ridiculous, and the last third degenerates into arch, nonsensical social commentary. The ending is very weak indeed. Overall, not very worthwhile spending time on.
"The Man Who Was Thursday" starts off as a spy novel set in Victorian England. The villains are the anarchists, a group of ruthless nihilists bent on destroying civilization and ultimately mankind. If one substitutes the concept of "terrorist" for that of "anarchist," the idea does not seem so outdated. Syme, the protagonist of the novel, is a poet, but also an undercover agent who infiltrates the secret cabal of the anarchists. One expects to find deeply conservative philosophical underpinnings in a Chesterton novel, and this book provides that bountifully.
But as the book progresses, the characters become less like individual people, and more like incarnations of philosophical concepts. The plot, too, becomes less credible, until finally it seems amateurish.
Most disappointing of all is the end of the book, in which the reader does not find a satisfactory tying together of the various strands of the story line. Having read most of the Father Brown mystery short stories, I had expected more and better from Chesterton.
Walter Covell's excellent narration is not enough to compensate for the shortcomings of this book. Chesteron, it seems, tried to write both a thriller and a philosophical tome in one book. Sadly, he succeeded at neither.
I really like chesterton, but I found this book completely incomprehensible. The ending didn't explain anything. At least, not to me, maybe better minds than mine understood it.
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