There are novels to understand, but there are novels to experience. After reading G. K. Chesterton’s The Man Who was Thursday twice—the second time to remind me of the plot—I concluded that it is securely in the second category. The first time I read it was before my stroke. I not saying that there is a connection—coordination does not equals causation, or something to that effect—but I find it strange that I spent a month at a rehab center and longer than six months in recovering, before I was ready to review the book. I remember reading the novel and thinking what the fuck. Surely a second reading would clear my confusion. So I read it again and thought what the fuck. That was when I decided that some books are good experience.
Maybe the ending is fault because is a religious allegory. Or is it? Excuse my confusion, but since my stroke, I struggle with abstractions, and even in the best (pre-stroke) times, as an atheist, I struggle with religious allegory. As a lay theologian and an apologist, Chesterton seems a candidate for including a religious allegory. The over eighty books he wrote, including Orthodoxy and The Everlasting Man, he is no stranger to write about Christ. So maybe it is an allegory. My confusion stems from book itself, because it only ended in the allegory, and I would expect more hints and clues in the text.
The plot follows Gabriel Syme, a poet hired by Scotland Yard to infiltrate a band anarchists operating in London. The band called themselves the Council of the Days, because there are seven members in the group, and the codenames they use are the weekdays. Syme infiltrates the company as Thursday, justifying the title. He brings nothing to the assignment. As a poet, he has no training in espionage, no ability to disguise his identity, no gadgets except for a walking stick that double as a sword. He has nothing but a hatred of the anarchists he battle against.
The primary antagonist is Sunday, who is described of a fat man. A most dangerous man! At the climactic scene, Syme pursues Sunday through the streets of London in cab, in hot air balloons, and an elephant. (Did he say an elephant?) Yes, I did. And that brings us to style of novel, which is farcical. As exciting as it is, as tense as it is, it is also funny as hell.
That is expect as you read “the prince of paradox,” Chesterton’s nickname. Until my survey of spy novels, I never heard of Gilbert Keith Chesterton (love the middle name), but I don’t know why. The author of eighty books, friends with George Bernard Shaw, and praised by no lesser people than T. S. Eliot, he was writer’s writer. He was—to use my old aspiration for myself—an “old-fashioned man of letters.” Along with fiction and the apologist work, he wrote philosophy and literary criticism. He best know for his Father Brown detectives stories.
The next moment the smoke of his cigar, which had been wavering across the room in snaky twists, went straight up as if from a factory chimney, and the two, with their chairs and table, shot down through the floor as if the earth had swallowed them. They went rattling down a kind of roaring chimney as rapidly as a lift cut loose, and they came with an abrupt bump to the bottom. But when Gregory threw open a pair of doors and let in a red subterranean light, Syme was still smoking, with one leg thrown over the other, and had not turned a yellow hair.
Chesterton was born of May 29, 1874. He studied illustrating in college, but he didn’t graduating. In 1901, he married Francis Blogg, but the couple had no children. He died of heart disease on June14, 1936.
My conclusion some book are to be experienced notwithstanding, I enjoyed the novel. Who says that I need understand it? In fact, I don’t believed Chesterton wanted the novel to be understood; he wanted it to inspire ambiguity in the end. After I completed the reading, since I didn’t understand it, I read the extract about the novel from Chesterton. In the extraction, he reference the title page two or three times, so many times, in fact, that I check it out. The clue lies in the subtitle: The Man Who was Thursday: A Nightmare. As a nightmare, it makes prefect sense, because nightmares make no sense. It is the prince of paradox prefect paradox.
The Man Who was Thursday was an enjoyable read. I read it twice to make sense of it, but I concluded that ambiguity is the novel signature. Is it a spy thriller? Well, it has tense scene of chases, gun violence, a duel, and intrigues, so if that your definition of spy thrillers, it should satisfied you. Only don’t expect an explanation at the end.