Book Review: The Man Who Was Thursday

“The Man Who Was Thursday” by G.K. Chesterton

First of all, I am no relation to Martin Gardner,  whose annotated edition of this book is quite popular and definitely worth checking out if you want to dig deep into the symbolism and imagery of what is commonly referred to as Chesterton’s best novel. However, if you Googled “Gardner + The Man Who Was Thursday” and ended up here, I hope you won’t be too disappointed!

Here is a book that can (and should!) be read many times. Those familiar with Chesterton’s writing will not be surprised to learn that there is quite a lot packed into such a small book, much of which simply cannot be gleaned in a single reading. For those not familiar with Chesterton, this makes a grand introduction!

While there is plenty of merit to plumbing the depths of hidden meaning and philosophy contained in The Man Who Was Thursday (which addresses such weighty issues as anarchy, government, religion, ethics, morality, and the nature of good and evil), it can also be read as simply a great, fun story! In my most recent reading of this book, this was all I was after. I read it in just a few hours, didn’t spend much time thinking about it, and thoroughly enjoyed it, yet again! This review will reflect this experience. There are many others who have broken down the “deeper meaning” of the book much better than I would.

Gabriel Symes, a.k.a. “Thursday”, is a poet-turned-philosopher-turned-detective-turned-secret agent who infiltrates the Supreme Council of Anarchists (each of whom has a code name based on the days of the week) and attempts to foil an assassination-by-bombing plot. Along the way, readers are led down dark alleys, over rooftops, across the English Channel, and through more plot twists than any “whodunit” tale you can imagine! Our hero engages in high stakes espionage, automobile gun battles, and a swashbuckling duel to the death, climaxing in a standoff where it seems the entire world has turned against him!

The Man Who Was Thursday, one of the pioneering novels in the detective/spy genre, was written in 1908 (the same year as Chesterton’s non-fiction masterpiece, Orthodoxy), but feels every bit as exciting as any modern thriller. Though the Edwardian world may have moved at a slower pace — at one point Thursday uses a hansom cab to chase a man fleeing on an elephant — the action certainly does not. You’ll likely find the pages turning at an extraordinary pace from the first to the last!

And, of course, the story is laced with Chesterton’s famous wit and knack for turning a phrase. Known for his fine aphorisms, the author is at his quotable best in this book. Here’s one of my favorites:

It may be conceded to the mathematicians that four is twice two. But two is not twice one; two is two thousand times one. That is why, in spite of a hundred disadvantages, the world will always return to monogamy.”

In short, if you’re a lover of literature, consider this a must-read. Buy it here.

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