Monday, 18 July 2016

The Man Who Was Thursday by G. K. Chesterton

Well, if I am not drunk, I am mad,
replied Syme with perfect calm;
but I trust I can behave like
a gentleman in either condition.
There has been plenty written over the 108 years since publication of G. K. Chesterton’s most famous novel, a novel that has never once been out of print in all those years, so to attempt to add to the weight of critical acclaim is futile. In fact, rather than read the rest of this post why not go and download it for free, read it yourself, and then check out The American Chesterton Society. Go on!


However, for my own personal reasons I want to record my reaction. The quick plot summary, if that’s even possible, sees rebel-against-rebelliousness and poet Gabriel Syme inveigle his way into the supreme council of anarchists ostensibly to uncover a murderous plot. He soon discovers that all is not as it seems and there’s even a big surprise at the end (sign-posted clearly throughout). It’s a spy novel, a detective novel, a novel filled with caricatures and symbolism, but also a novel that I found to be supernal, in both senses of the word (ironically but also coincidentally flaunting one of Elmore Leonard’s rules of writing - regularly talking about the weather). 

The sky features heavily throughout, and as skies do, mirrors the characters’ sombreness, gravity and alarm, but also auguring doom and mocking their quotidian, mundane and humdrum anxieties in places. As the backdrop to what has been described as a metaphysical thriller, it has as large a part to play as the bomb-throwing anarchists and undercover policemen. But in the other sense of the word, it is an amazing, intelligent, sublime farce, encompassing philosophical debates and barbed social commentary, Christian allegory, and filled with symbolic revelations. And in the end, it was all just one long nightmare. Or was it?

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