A review of G.K.Chesterton’s “The Man who was Thursday: A Nightmare”

This work, sometimes called “a metaphysical thriller,” is a rich delight.

It tells the story of one Gabriel Syme, who challenges anarchist Lucien Gregory on his views at an evening gathering in a bohemian side street in Edwardian era London.  Gabriel asserts those who bring order, even those who reliably steer trains to reliable destinations, are heroic linchpins that keep chaos at bay.  Lucien argues that chaos will liberate and create.  Gregory argues that only with order framing the chaos can any creating or anything else be done. It sets the tone for the central conflicts and arguments of the book.

Irritated, Lucien invites Gabriel to an anarchist meet, where he is horrified to discover that Gabriel is a Police detective(part of a special branch hunting anarchists).  Through a series of bluffs and counter-bluffs, Gabriel assumes the guise of a henchman of the notorious “Sunday” who rules over anarchist councils such as this everywhere, and is held in awe and fear among the anarchists.  Pushing his double agent work further, he then gets himself on Sunday’s elect Council as “Thursday,” where his comrades are also named after the different days of the week.  At his first supreme council meet, his spiritual intelligence detects an air of something truly diabolical about Sunday and his comrades.  He finds himself embroiled in a fight where the stakes could not be bigger..

To reveal more would be to plunge too far into spoilers.  For this is a wonderfully intricate piece of story-telling, its parts and components slotted together with a watch-makers skill.  If you do guess a twist, you won’t foresee how it will play out.  And if you do guess or work out from previous hints the identity of Sunday, you won’t foresee exactly how that plays out, and what the arguments behind the big reveal are.

Suffice it to say that G.K.Chesterton tells a cracking story first and foremost, and through that delves into some of the mysteries of the Christian Faith. This fits so well with the story, indeed it is the story, that it does not reduce the story to allegory or trick the reader.  Far from it.  This is a book to enrich, enlighten and entertain.  And it is often very, very funny as well, balancing humour at times with Hitchcockian suspense.  More than one scene has a thrilling race against time.

I also need to give a shout out to Simon Vance, who read the audio-book I listened to.  He strikes just the right balance between the different tones of seriousness and lightness, and his characterisation s brilliant.

Read and embrace this gem, you will be richer for it.

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