Paul Bryant's Reviews > The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare

The Man Who Was Thursday by G.K. Chesterton
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's review
Aug 17, 2011

it was ok
bookshelves: novels
Read from August 12 to 18, 2011

They say that LSD was first synthesisterised in 1938, so it couldn't be that. But opium was imbibed in British society as we know from Thomas de Quincy up to Sherlock Holmes, so I'm going with opium.

This strange novel is a phantasmagoria which begins as a surrealistic spoof of Boy's-Own detective adventures in which our hero infiltrates the central council of the evil anarchists who are bent on destroying human society. Gathering more absurd elements (elephant chases through central London, medieval dance raves), it ends up as some kind of incoherent religious parable. The only sense I could make of it was that the message is Hindu - all of the world is divine, all of the world is God, all of the world is God dancing joyously with herself. That's about it, if anyone can nail it down more than that, I'm all ears.

As I read this, two things struck me, aside from thinking GK Chesterton's cocoa had been spiked with acid - I thought of an Arthur Penn movie from 1966 called The Chase, which begins conventionally and gets weirder and wilder as it progresses - must see that one again. And I thought that I've never come across so many beards in a single novel - maybe GK was a male facial hair fetishist - every character, and they're ALL men, has their beard or lack of beard carefully noted, so many beards there are that each time I opened my copy I thought I heard sociologists singing folk songs.

In one word : bonkers.
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01/29/2016 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-30 of 30) (30 new)

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message 1: by Dolly (new)

Dolly Delightly My favourite quote from this book is: "Revolt in the abstract is revolting."

Paul Bryant so far this book is a very strange spoof.

message 3: by Shovelmonkey1 (new)

Shovelmonkey1 Nice review - was there any pattern to the distribution of facial hair? E.g. goodies had moustaches and baddies had beards?

Paul Bryant I am afraid that to answer this question would be to perpetrate a spoiler! (A lot of it is fake.)

Jesse Haven't read this, but the comparison to The Chase is intriguing. That is such an odd film--I rather liked it though.

Tuck so many folks consider this a masterpiece, but i cannot even make as much coherence of it as you paul. and also on the beard thing, maybe author is alluding to those grizzly bear guys? i think that's what they are called.

Paul Bryant nah, it's folk singers.

message 8: by Ian (new)

Ian "Marvin" Graye The photo on his author page makes him look like a man who has listened to too much folk music...or something.

 Paul I absolutely love this book (Chesterton's best effort imho). At the same time, I totally relate to your review.

message 10: by Paul (new) - rated it 2 stars

Paul Bryant I could see people loving this book because it's unique & has a goofiness all of its own.

Anita Well, I did like the goofiness, but I also liked the sometimes-poetic descriptions, and also... well, perhaps coming from a Christian religious background the same as the author may have helped some with the ending?

message 12: by Paul (new) - rated it 2 stars

Paul Bryant could be - care to explain it for me?

message 13: by Nic (new) - rated it 4 stars

Nic Wheeler There are two allusions to biblical stories in the last chapter of the book. The first has to do with Job, where Bull mutters something about the sons of God gathering before God, along with the Accuser (comes from Job 1:6). Job's story details God allowing Satan to bring magnificent evil and pain upon Job in order to test him, to see whether Job would forsake God and curse His name or cling to God in his greatest time of need.

The second is the last sentence of the book, where a quote from Jesus runs through Syme's head. In the story, two of Jesus' disciples ask Jesus to be placed to the right and left of His throne in heaven. Jesus asks if they are able to drink the same cup, or if they are able to experience the pain and loss that He is about to go through on the cross in order to receive incomprehensible glory and joy.

As far as I can understand, the idea is that God allows men to go through evil to be able to more clearly see good. Sunday allows the 6 men to experience hurt, delusion, and confusion so that they could rebut Gregory's last accusation - that they can't experience reality and joy because they have never experienced pain.

message 14: by Paul (new) - rated it 2 stars

Paul Bryant thanks very much for that Nic! I like your interpretation. Doesn't make this remarkable book any less crazy however.

message 15: by Jim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jim GKC might be bonkers. He might be crazy. But he is irrepressibly sane and makes sense when all the silliness is boiled away. The man is not afraid to go way, way out on a limb to make his point, as witness his other fiction -- all of which has the same manic quality. For instance: The Paradoxes of Mr. Pond, The Ball and the Cross, The Flying Inn, Manalive, and The Napoleon of Notting Hill.

Having read all his fiction and many of his essays, I believe there madness in his method and method in his madness.

message 16: by Mark (new)

Mark I agree that this book became incoherent by the end. It also became rather boring and silly (without being funny) after the first couple chapters. To my mind, it started out promising - it was amusing and intriguing - but then the novel fell apart as soon as Syme met up with the other members of the 'central anarchist council'.

message 17: by Paul (new) - rated it 2 stars

Paul Bryant I suppose it was the I-can't-believe-this-was-written-in-1908 thing which kept me turning the pages. I wonder if you have ever read At Swim-Two-Birds by Flann O'Brien? Another very strange one.

message 18: by Josh (new) - rated it 5 stars

Josh Taylor If it comes across as absurd, it's because it reflects the absurdity of the system which it is mocking. It's a perfectly twisted criticism of anarchism and, to some degree, the hypocrisy of the liberalists in London at the time.

message 19: by Paul (new) - rated it 2 stars

Paul Bryant a lot of the contemporary political satire will be lost on a modern reader, so it may be one of those novels where you need a critical introduction to set the scene. But even then, I don't think the modern reader will really get it.

message 20: by Josh (new) - rated it 5 stars

Josh Taylor Probably. Pretend Syme is a republican invading a democratic caucus and it becomes a little clearer (or vice versa, though it falls apart a little more that way)

message 21: by [deleted user] (new)

I guess I'm still trying to figure out the 2-star rating. All you did was say great things about the book. Could you clarify exactly why you didn't like it? I genuinely don't understand.

message 22: by Paul (new) - rated it 2 stars

Paul Bryant It was just so silly!

message 23: by Tuck (last edited Aug 22, 2014 06:46AM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Tuck i thought it was too wordy and took too long to have anything happen. so for me, it was too old fashioned. and silly.

Jessica Paul I am also a bit lost. I listened to the audiobook, which I felt was quite well done/directed, the narrator's tone accentuated some of the silliness in a fun way, and the story definitely kept my attention. But I was hoping for a (at least somewhat) clear "main point" at the end, and that absolutely did not happen from my perspective. It's been a bit enlightening to read some of the comments on this string; however, I'm still not sure I "get it!"

message 25: by Paul (new) - rated it 2 stars

Paul Bryant I am with you - as I said it seems to end up as some kind of incoherent religious parable, but jeez, I dunno.
Sure is memorable though!

Matthias This is one of my all-time favorite books.
The beard-thing only shows how much Chesterton was ahead of his time, it's all magazines seem to be raving about these days :-p
I won't pretend I could make perfect sense of the ending either, but I'm sure Gilbert Keith could, spiked cocoa or no :-D
Very funny review, though I respectfully disagree with the meager amount of stars you chose to bestow on it ;-)

message 27: by Paul (new) - rated it 2 stars

Paul Bryant Hi Matthias - so what do you think this craze book is all about? I'd be disappointed if it was a local political allegory (like the Book of Revelations) and even more if it was "just a dream".

Matthias Paul wrote: "Hi Matthias - so what do you think this craze book is all about? I'd be disappointed if it was a local political allegory (like the Book of Revelations) and even more if it was "just a dream"."
Well, the title does say it is a "nightmare", so any disappointment stemming from that could have been avoided.
I don't think this book has necessarily just "one point". When you ask me what it's about, the only lame answer I can come up with off the top of my head is "life". And faith. Yes, I want to punch myself in the face right now as well, but there you have it anyway. Chesterton never strays too far away from Christian allegories.
I don't consider this book to be a message though, but mainly a theater for philosophical dialogues. The decor: uncertainty. Chesterton transmitted that feeling of uncertainty really well, sometimes in a lighthearted way, sometimes more oppressively and used that setting to make his characters ask the questions that matter. Their answers might be rubbish but well, so is everyone else's. At least Chesterton presents his with a whole lot of style!

message 29: by Paul (new) - rated it 2 stars

Paul Bryant I think that's about the size of it. You can see that if a reader is not expecting a bizarre Christian allegory and really doesn't get any help whatsoever from the author then general befuddlement may well ensue.

message 30: by Sean (new) - rated it 5 stars

Sean I always wonder why we humans have such a low appreciation of our abilities that we often think we can not be creative and imaginative without chemical assistance.

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