My journey into the really obscure
The Man Who Was Thursday ― G K Chesterton
One of the best reviews I have read of this book was very short:
‘Boy, this was really good until it wasn’t at all anymore’
That almost sums it up for me I’m afraid. Needless to say I was horribly disappointed by this book. I did not begin reading with any sort of expectations, I had never heard of G K Chesterton before, and was just taken in by the unusual title more than anything. I found this little book on the shelf of a charity shop and decided to give it a go.
I really enjoyed the book at first. I like the style in which it is written, it remind me almost a bit of P.G Wodehouse. It’s a pleasure to read, and full of wonderful, intricate little descriptions. One is simultaneously drawn into the depth of the story, and laughing out loud at the ridiculousness of it.
I feel it necessary to give you a brief overview.
It begins with two poets arguing in a park in London as to whether poetry is more akin to law or anarchy. One Poet, Gregory, claim to be an anarchist, the other, Syme, does not believe Gregory can possibly be so. Later that night Gregory takes Syme to his secret anarchist meeting place, after swearing him to secrecy.
The anarchist lair exists underground, below a public house, and has wall lines with firearms. Gregory confides in Syme that the anarchist council is run by seven men, each taking their name from a day of the week. Gregory feels he is about to take the place of the recently deceased Thursday. At this point, right before the Gregory’s fellow anarchists enter the room, Syme drops a bombshell and tell Gregory that he is in fact an undercover policeman. That was it, Chesterton had my complete attention.
When the other anarchists enter the room, they hold a vote, and as predicted Gregory is selected as the candidate to replace Thursday, and asked to say a few words. Gregory, worried by Syme’s presence, changes his tune and tries to trick Syme into believing that anarchists are not dangerous at all. Upon which time Syme adopts the disguise of a true anarchist, and finds himself -quite hilariously- elected the new Thursday.
What follows is a terrifying journey for Syme, who soon finds himself surrounded by the other six leaders of the anarchist council. Including the terrifying Sunday:
‘They might have called Sunday the super-man. If any such creature be conceivable, he looked, indeed, somewhat like it, with his earth-shaking abstraction, as of a stone statue walking’
Without going into too great detail, in the proceeding chapters Syme discovers little by little that the other leaders -all except Sunday- are all in fact members of the same secret police service as himself. Having all been recruited by the same mysterious man in a dark room. Despite all being terrified of Sunday, the group decide to confront him, and find out exactly who he is, and what his plans are.
The meeting takes place on a balcony, and when confronted Sunday merely says: ‘There’s one thing I’ll tell you though about who I am. I am the man in the dark room, who made you all policemen’ before leaping from the balcony and escaping into London. The ensuing chase is absolutely fantastic, with Sunday absconding first via handsome cab, then on a stolen elephant and finally in a hot air balloon.
The six friends continue their pursuit in vain, exhausted, bedraggled and covered in their own blood, and begin discussing their views on Sunday. It now comes to light that each man’s thoughts, though almost completely different to the next, have one thing in common, they all view Sunday as the universe.
At this point in the story I realised it wasn’t going to be the ridiculous ending I had hoped for – although I’m not entirely sure what exactly I was hoping for.
The group are eventually picked up by an employee of Sunday’s, who packs them each into their own private carriages and takes them off to Sunday’s house (it gets stranger). Once at the house they are each given a bed chamber, and a change of clothes for the fancy dress party (but of course!). Each man has a costume that corresponds to their day of the week in the creation story, with Thursday suitably decorated in the sun, the moon and the stars. There were seven thrones present at the fancy dress party -which was further attended by an assortment of forest type creatures, all dancing round a giant bonfire- each would-be anarchist has his own throne, with Sunday sitting in the middle throne, dressed as if made out of light itself.
I’m everyone can work out where this is going. Sunday, is God. Of course! Of course Sunday is God! Why on earth wouldn’t Sunday be God? It completely ruins what was otherwise quite an interesting, quirky little book, that’s why. It also turns out that Gregory (remember him?), represents evil. To top everything off, the book ends with the fancy dress party fading out of sight, and Syme finding himself walking along a country lane with Gregory at his side.
I find it quite difficult to describe to you my disappointment, in everything, and especially in the ‘he woke up and it was all a dream’ esque final paragraph.
Upon doing a bit of research of Chesteron after finishing this it turns out he liked to write about Christian theology, in ALL his novels. So needless to say I won’t be picking up one of his books if I pass it in a charity shop again. I don’t think I can claim to have fully understood exactly what Chesterton was getting at when he wrote this, that God is a terrifying joker perhaps?
As I said at the beginning, I think this book is best summed up by ‘Boy, this was really good until it wasn’t at all anymore’. I won’t say I didn’t enjoy it at all, but any enjoyment I felt was completely ruined by the ending.
Overall I think the book would have been a hell of a lot better is Chesterton wasn’t obviously so terribly keen on being Christian.