Thursday, February 4, 2010

The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare by G. K. Chesterton

Syme had for a flash the sensation that the cosmos had turned exactly upside down, that all trees were growing downwards and that all stars were under his feet. Then came slowly the opposite conviction. For the last twenty-four hours the cosmos had really been upside down, but now the capsized universe had come right side up again.

G. K. Chesterton is one of those writers I'd always meant to read but somehow never got around to. There's not much excuse for it--he's very accessible, has written dozens of books, most of which are now in the public domain, and The Man Who Was Thursday received rave reviews from both Chris and Carlton, which finally pushed me over the edge.

Thursday starts out like a philosophical novel, with a confrontation between two poets in a park. One of them, Gregory, is an anarchist; the other, Syme, is not. After a verbal battle in which Syme accuses Gregory of not being a true anarchist, Gregory takes Syme on a bizarre tour of the London underground to prove his commitment to his ideology, culminating in an anarchist election, where Syme becomes the titular Thuursday. What happens at the election and afterwards is complex and full of spoilers, but without giving anything too important away, Syme eventually meets the head anarchist, Sunday, and his board of weekday-monikered directors.

It's hard to say much about the plot of Thursday without spoiling it, which wouldn't be as big of a deal if the book weren't so well-plotted. There are compelling philosophical questions at the heart of the novel, but it plays out like an absurd comedy until a surprisingly touching final act. The questions of chaos vs order and good vs evil are present but the ultimate question the novel poses is less obvious and, again, too much of a spoiler to mention here.

I'd love to do more in-depth analysis but a) I'm not sure I have any great insights and b) it would only decrease the enjoyment that anyone reading this review would get from the book. It's free, it's short, it's funny. Read it.


Carlton Farmer said...

Did you read this on your Nook?

Nihil Novum said...

I did!

Christopher said...

I love love love the last chapter of this book.

Carlton Farmer said...

I agree completely. The last chapter is blissed-out awesomeness!