Item description for The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare (Annotated Edition) by G. K. Chesterton & Martin Gardner...
Outline ReviewIn an article published the day before his death, G.K. Chesterton called The Man Who Was Thursday "a very melodramatic sort of moonshine." Set in a phantasmagoric London where policemen are poets and anarchists camouflage themselves as, well, anarchists, his 1907 novel offers up one highly colored enigma after another. If that weren't enough, the author also throws in an elephant chase and a hot-air-balloon pursuit in which the pursuers suffer from "the persistent refusal of the balloon to follow the roads, and the still more persistent refusal of the cabmen to follow the balloon."
But Chesterton is also concerned with more serious questions of honor and truth (and less serious ones, perhaps, of duels and dualism). Our hero is Gabriel Syme, a policeman who cannot reveal that his fellow poet Lucian Gregory is an anarchist. In Chesterton's agile, antic hands, Syme is the virtual embodiment of paradox:
He came of a family of cranks, in which all the oldest people had all the newest notions. One of his uncles always walked about without a hat, and another had made an unsuccessful attempt to walk about with a hat and nothing else. His father cultivated art and self-realization; his mother went in for simplicity and hygiene. Hence the child, during his tenderer years, was wholly unacquainted with any drink between the extremes of absinthe and cocoa, of both of which he had a healthy dislike.... Being surrounded with every conceivable kind of revolt from infancy, Gabriel had to revolt into something, so he revolted into the only thing left--sanity.
Elected undercover into the Central European Council of anarchists, Syme must avoid discovery and save the world from any bombings in the offing. As Thursday (each anarchist takes the name of a weekday--the only quotidian thing about this fantasia) does his best to undo his new colleagues, the masks multiply. The question then becomes: Do they reveal or conceal? And who, not to mention what, can be believed? As The Man Who Was Thursday proceeds, it becomes a hilarious numbers game with a more serious undertone--what happens if most members of the council actually turn out to be on the side of right? Chesterton's tour de force is a thriller that is best read slowly, so as to savor his highly anarchic take on anarchy. --Kerry Fried
Product Description Can you trust yourself when you don't know who you are? Syme uses his new acquaintance to go undercover in Europe's Central Anarchist Council and infiltrate their deadly mission, even managing to have himself voted to the position of 'Thursday'. In a park in London, secret policeman Gabriel Syme strikes up a conversation with an anarchist. Sworn to do his duty, when Syme discovers another undercover policeman on the Council, however, he starts to question his role in their operations. And as a desperate chase across Europe begins, his confusion grows, as well as his confidence in his ability to outwit his enemies. But he has still to face the greatest terror that the Council has - its leader: a man named Sunday, whose true nature is worse than Syme could ever have imagined...
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More About G. K. Chesterton & Martin Gardner
P. D. Jamesis the bestselling author of many celebrated literary mystery novels. She served in the Police and Criminal Justice departments of Great Britain's Home Office, and in 1991 she was made a life peer as Baroness James of Holland Park. She lives in London and Oxford.
G. K. Chesterton lived in London. G. K. Chesterton was born in 1874 and died in 1936.
G. K. Chesterton has published or released items in the following series...
Classic Wisdom Collection
Collected Works of G. K. Chesterton
Collected Works of G.K. Chesterton
Doubleday Image Book
Dover Books on History, Political and Social Science
Reviews - What do customers think about The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare (Annotated Edition)?
Very good resource for Chesterton fans Jan 15, 2007
To the text widely considered to be Chesterton's masterpiece, Martin Gardner (who has also provided notes for Alice in Wonderland among others, along with writing widely on mathematical puzzles) adds helpful explanatory notes. The book also includes illustrations, some more helpful than others. While Gardner's notes are valuable, some elements perhaps deserving of a note do not receive one (for instance, a line of Old French from the Song of Roland). Gardner's introduction advances his (persuasive) reading of Thursday, which along with the notes makes this volume interesting, engaging and especially helpful for those teaching Thursday
Good book, terribly annotated Aug 22, 2006
This was a pretty good book, as others have attested. My beef is with the worthless annotations. Actually, they are less than worthless because they contain major plot spoilers. As far as I can tell, the notes break down as follows:
40% Numerous descriptions of London streets, neighborhoods that have absolutely no bearing on the plot and can easily be obtained on the Web by anyone who really cares about things like exactly where Charing Cross is and what kinds of shops it has in it.
35% Irrelevant literary cross-references that have no bearing on the work's plot or themes. These are most likely to occur when the annotator is reminded of some poem from the same period from another one of his books, and wants to speculate on whether Chesterton might have read it.
17% Corrections of Chesterton's own quotes and allusions, which apparently he did mostly from memory and so misses a word or two here and there
3% plot spoilers.
5% I guess were sort of useful, though the annotater is so pretentious it's hard to admit. But you should avoid reading them, because you never know which ones might be plot spoilers.
I would also comments that most of the cultural references that actually caused me to pause and question the text were not footnoted.
In his defense, I will say that the annotator provides a fairly good introduction. But don't read it until after you've read the book (more spoilers).
Metaphysical thriller Jul 14, 2006
This novel is very eccentric, strange and unclassifiable. As Kingsley Amis says in the introduction, it is a mix between political nightmare, metaphysical thriller, and cosmic joke in the shape of a spies' novel. Turns out there is, apparently, a secret anarchist movement set to destroy the world. There is, also, a "philosophical police" whose end is to inflitrate and tear apart the movement. Gabriel Syme, a young poet-policeman, manages to infiltrate and be chosen as "Thursday" (the Central Committee is composed of seven guys, each one code-named a day of the week). There is much to give away, so I'll just say that little by little, after a series of impossible, fantastic, and terrifying adventures, Syme discovers the secret of the sect. More than the plot, though, what is remarkable about this book is the mixture of British wit and the capacity for paradox, with profound (but never pedantic) reflections on the stupidity, simpleness and perversity of anarchism and terrorism. What starts as a somewhat conventional novels develops into a fast and crazed journey throught the abysses of fanaticism and the limits of reason. Full with images reminding of fantasies like Bulgakov's "The Master and Margarita", the novel eventually resembles the nightmares we all have, but that only a genius like Chesterton manages to remember, record and illustrate. It is seldom that you can accurately use the term "hallucinating" to depict a novel, and this one certainly deserves it.
What a nightmare! May 15, 2006
The man in the dark who hired Syme was huge. Syme, even though he couldn't see a thing, knew that the speaker was of massive proportions.
Then, at the first council breakfast, we see that Sunday is a big big man, too big for the balcony. At that moment we know that the two men are one and the same. So, Syme's and others' continuing wonders of who Sunday is or who the man who hired them is comes across as childish. We suspect it, why can't they?
Also, after the first "spy" we know that all of them will turn out to be police officers, so that was a little tiresome too.
But, I really enjoyed some scenes. For instance, Syme's anticipated dialogue with the Marquis:
'Has it by any chance occurred to you,' asked the Professor, with a ponderous simplicity, 'that the Marquis may not say all the forty-three things you have put down for him?'
Connection to current events: The police (symbolizing all the ruling powers) is as ridiculous as the terrorists. In fact, in the book there are no anarchists, except maybe for Gregory (that poor man, I felt so sorry for him). I am thinking that maybe we can adapt the moral of the story to the current paranoia. We started to think that everyone might be a terrorist. London police killed an innocent man mistaking him for a terrorist.
The silliness of the police also reminded me a little of a certain president, how he must have felt after going to war to find weapons of mass destruction and then admitting that there never was any.
On Thursday... Mar 26, 2006
For a book that's as short as this one is, "The Man Who Was Thursday" is pretty packed.
G.K. Chesterton's classic novella tackles anarchy, social order, God, peace, war, religion, human nature, and a few dozen other weight concepts. And somehow he manages to mash it all together into a delightful satire, full of tongue-in-cheek commentary that is still relevant today.
As the book opens, Gabriel Symes is debating with a soapbox anarchist. The two men impress each other enough that the anarchist introduces Symes to a seven-man council of anarchists, all named after days of the week. In short order, they elect Symes their newest member -- Thursday.
But they don't know that he's also been recruited by an anti-anarchy organization. And soon Symes finds out that he's not the only person on the council who is not what he seems. There are other spies and double-agents, working for the same cause. But who -- and what -- is the jovial, powerful Mr. Sunday, the head of the organization?
Hot air balloons, elaborate disguises, duels and police chases -- Chesterton certainly knew how to keep this novel interesting. Though written almost a century ago, "The Man Who Was Thursday" still feels very fresh. That's partly because of Chesterton's cheery writing... and partly because it's such an intelligent book.
He doesn't avoid some timeless topics that make some people squirm. Humanity (good and bad), anarchy, religion and its place in human nature, and creation versus destruction all get tackled here -- disguised as a comic police investigation. And unlike most satires, it isn't dated; the topics are reflections of humanity and religion, so they're as relevant now as they were in 1908.
But the story isn't pedantic or boring; Chesterton keeps things lively by having his characters act like real people, rather than mouthpieces. From Symes to the Colonel to the mysterious Sunday himself, they all have a sort of friendly, energetic quality. "We're all spies! Come and have a drink!" one of the characters announces cheerfully near the end.
And of course, once the madcap police investigations are finished, there's still a mystery. Who is Sunday? What are his goals? And for that matter, WHAT is Sunday -- genius, force of nature, villain or god? The answer is a bit of a surprise, and as a reflection of Chesterton's beliefs, it's a delicate, intelligent piece of work.
"The Man Who Was Thursday" is a wacky little satire that will both amuse and educate you. Not bad for a book often subtitled "A Nightmare."