Book Review: “The Man Who Was Thursday” by G.K. Chesterton (1908)

Considered “a nightmare by G.K. Chesterton,” the short novel, The Man Who Was Thursday, feels more like a mystery than anything, though it ends up proving itself to be a spiritual allegory, albeit an entirely convoluted one. The story is the retelling of a dream from a man to his wife in bed over a few bottles of burgundy, a plot which generally should scream to most readers, “Avoid me!” though as an offering from a master writer like Chesterton, it still entices.

The main character, a police detective in his dream, finds himself suddenly the newest member of the secret, seven-member Board of Anarchists. Each of these members is named after one of the days of the week, thus making this gentleman “Thursday” and the secretive and terrifying President of the Board “Sunday.” Throughout the story, Thursday discovers one-by-one that each of the other members of this board is actually also an undercover police detective, and that each of them has been tricked into investigating and chasing a secret society that actually does not exist. The majority of the tale centers on these mysterious revelations, and the constant question in the reader’s mind is not so much “Who is Sunday?” but rather “What is Sunday’s game?”

In the end, Sunday reveals himself not only to be the one who first hired each man onto the police force and drew him into this seemingly useless investigation, but also as a far more spiritual specter than each man had at first anticipated. He calls himself “the peace of God,” and informs each detective that he is actually one of the days of creation, lost since The Fall in a state of anarchy against their Creator. Satan is revealed to be the only true Anarchist (personified as Thursday’s own brother-in-law for the sake of the plot) and therefore as the enemy of all. The ultimate thesis of the tale is that to defeat the anarchy brought on through the Fall by the devil, each aspect of creation must work together in harmony beneath the peace of God, bound by the one thing the devil can’t touch, love.

I get the impression that Chesterton actually had a dream like this, wrote it down, and immediately got it published, not so much because it was a such a great story but because he’s known to be such a great author. Honestly, this was the most convoluted method of proving an abstract point that I’ve ever seen. Perhaps I need to study this novel more to understand his point, but I’m exhausted enough simply from having read it once, and I don’t think I could handle it again. I didn’t hate the book, but I also was a bit let down by the conclusion, unclear as it was, since I feel like the reader deserves a bit more for having invested the time. Of course, this is simply my impatient generation speaking, for any second grader at the turn of the century would have likely viewed this book as a simple children’s tale to be read between lunch and dinner.

This book contained lots more cursing than one might expect from a Catholic author, so be wary of that. Because I am confident that Chesterton and I would not see eye-to-eye theologically, and because of his verbose—albeit witty—writing style, I don’t think I would enjoy reading much more from him. I may try his fiction again, but there is a whole lot more out there to read first.

©2016 E.T.

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