The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare by G.K. Chesterton
Rating: ★★★★★ // a level of clever that makes you smile.
Favorite Line: “Your offer,” he said, “is far too idiotic to be declined.”
Gabriel Syme is a police detective and a poetry enthusiast. While enjoying the company of other poetry enthusiasts he comes across a man named Lucian Gregory. The two strike up a hearty conversation about anarchists, a group which Gregory identifies as a member of, which ultimately led to Gregory bringing Syme into an underground meeting of anarchists, completely ignorant of the fact that Syme is a detective.
“The philosopher may sometimes love the infinite; the poet always loves the finite. For him the great moment is not the creation of light, but the creation of the sun and moon.”
While at the meeting, an important vote takes place wherein a member is elected to the board, as the position of “Thursday” had become vacant (all members are named after a day of the week). Syme decides to go fully undercover and he gives a rousing speech to the group, and they elect him as the council member. However, just before his speech he informs Gregory that he is a detective, knowing that Gregory can say nothing against him, for he will be killed on the spot for bringing the police to their meeting, and Gregory therefore must look on in horror as a police detective is elected onto the anarchist’s council.
What follows is an extremely clever plot of Syme’s undercover involvement in the anarchist’s group and his attempt to infiltrate the system without being found out by the leader of the group, Sunday…this task becomes his nightmare.
“I cannot betray you, but I might betray myself. Come, come! wait and see me betray myself. I shall do it so nicely.”
This book is barely over 200 pages long, yet it is completely satisfying. Chesterton is not one to waste words, so the narrative is concise and the dialect is full of purpose. Yet even so, this story contains humor along with strong philosophical insight.
While reading it we, the reader, take on the point of view of Syme and so we figure out the twists and turns as he does. In doing so, Chesterton makes Syme’s oncoming nightmare our own, and I, for one, truly became anxious about the outcome as I was reading it.
“The Iliad is only great because all life is a battle, The Odyssey because all life is a journey, The Book of Job because all life is a riddle.”
I recommend this book to anyone who likes to really think while reading their mysteries. Chesterton makes an odd and worrisome story clever and amusing. I really couldn’t put this one down and I found myself truly sad when it was over.