Friday, June 22, 2007

The Man Who was Thursday: A Nightmare, Book Review

Imagine a council of seven men bent on destroying the world and shrouded in secrecy such that the members of the council are known by days of the week rather than their real names. In this world there is also an elite force of detectives who have sworn to bring down this council of anarchy. They are a “special corps of policemen, policemen who are also philosophers,” and who consider themselves “the last heroes of the world” (44, 46). This is the fictional tension explored in G.K. Chesterton’s The Man Who was Thursday.

The introduction describes the book as having the ability to “keep you in continual and almost painful suspense, put you if fear for the hero’s survival – but persuading you that something wonderful is afoot, that the events described have a mysterious and momentous significance you hardly dare guess at” (1). This is an apt description. The title and concept alone are enough to perk my imagination. It might be true that “anybody who at the sight of it [the title] does not feel a faint tingle of excitement and a breath of wonder is not really a fit person to be reading the book” (4).

I especially enjoyed the language employed by Chesterton and his characters. After all, the plot involves a group of intellectual anarchists warring against a group of philosophic policemen. Action and acumen all in one dose. A random example: In the early pages of the book, Chesterton describes one of the characters a someone “who was very rational when anyone else attempted paradox” (12). The banter that takes place among the detectives and villains even in the midst of tumultuous situations is delightful.

When I read this, I kept thinking, “what is going on here?” The plot kept getting more and more bizarre, only to get to the end of the book and realize the answer and major plot resolution had been staring me in the face the entire book, from the first page. Coming to the end of the story was like waking up from an adventure I secretly longed to experience.

This story is exciting and chilling at the same time. In addition to telling a good story, Chesterton also employs overt and subtle Christian metaphors that both intrigue and baffle. The book is worth reading, and worth reading again. I'm sure that there's much I missed in my furious trek through its pages. As C.S. Lewis said, "We do not enjoy a story fully at the first reading. Not till the curiosity, the sheer narrative lust has been given its sop and laid asleep, are we at leisure to savour the real beauties."

I would recommend this book, especially to anyone working their way through theological tomes who needs a fresh breath of witty prose and a brief stint of dream-like adventure.

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I also occasionally post annotations that I make as I read Cormac McCarthy at "Reading Cormac McCarthy."

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