Well I just read a very odd little book. So one of my favorite podcasts I listen to is the Flophouse podcast. And no, this isn’t another book based on a popular podcast. The Flophouse is great, and one of the many podcasts that’s about bad movies. It’s hilarious. And one of the co-hosts is the former head writer of the Daily Show, Elliott Kalan, who is a wonderful source of bad puns, impromptu songs, and great recommendations of truly classic films. And he occasionally mentions novels that are also beloved by him, and so far the ones I’ve checked out have been well worth it. So when I heard him mention in an episode that one of his favorite novels of all time was this little novel by G.K. Chesterton called the Man Who Was Thursday: a Nightmare, I figured I would be pretty safe picking it up. And I’m glad I did, because it was an incredibly strange and fun novel that I probably would never have otherwise found. This was a book that I basically knew nothing about when I started reading it, and that might have made it even better. I know that most of my articles are just plot summaries with little comments and thoughts sprinkled in, but this book maybe requires a different approach. I’ll still talk about the plot, but before I get to that I want to tell people to just check it out without knowing anything about the plot. Just know that it’s a comedic thriller with a lot of double crossing and anarchists. So if that sounds fun, check it out before learning anything else about it.
Now, I will say right off the bat that this book wasn’t a complete home run for me. The ending pushed things a little too far, although it could definitely be argued that that was the point, and that it really fell in with the fact that the subtitle of the novel is “a Nightmare.” But I’ll get to that later. The book starts off with two jerk debating poetry at a party in Edwardian England. One is our protagonist Gabriel Syme, and the other is a man named Lucian Gregory who is claiming to be an anarchist. The two debate poetry for a while before finally getting on the topic of anarchy as a whole. Syme starts to bait Gregory and mock him for believing in anarchy, and the idea that he’s actually an anarchist until Gregory gets so pissed that he makes Syme come with him to his anarchist club house. He drags Syme down to some secret meetinghouse where the anarchists are about to meet, trying to show off how cool he is. But things backfire when it turns out Syme isn’t a poet, he’s a police officer who is hunting anarchists, and this was all an elaborate trick to find out who is part of an elite anarchist society. Gregory understandably freaks out, especially when the rest of the council shows up to vote for the next person to join the seven person council that runs the organization, the next person to be known as Thursday. But Syme points out that Gregory can’t tell them he’s a police officer, because they would then have to kill Gregory for being so stupid as to let a cop down to their clubhouse. So Syme and Gregory sit through a meeting where they see the enigmatic leader of the council, Sunday, and get involved in the vote for the new Thursday. After it seems like Gregory will be the obvious choice, Syme throws his hat in the ring, and by grandstanding and making crazy promises like a campaign speech, he ends up getting voted onto the council of anarchists that he’s hunting.
And really, this was probably the best part of the novel for me. It was so fun and crazy. A silly farce where two people are stuck in an awkward situation while one is screwing the other over. It was wonderfully British and absurd. But after this the book starts to take a weird turn where Syme begins to feel paranoid that all of the other members of the group, all named after days of the week, are following him. And it turns out they are, and it also turns out that they’re all also cops that have sneaked into the organization. It happens slowly, over most of the rest of the novel, and at first it was a surprise that one of the other anarchists was a cop as well, and seemed like a funny joke, but then it got a little weird. For a while I though that it was just part of the joke of the book, that they were all accidental police officers that were so incompetent that they didn’t realize they were all on the same case. But then it became evident that the evil Sunday knew they were all cops, and had made them members of the council to keep them busy hunting each other while real anarchists did their thing. At least I think that’s what happened? The end of the book got really crazy with the rest of the council having a wacky chase through London trying to catch Sunday as he rides elephants and a hot-air balloon. It got really weird at the end, which eventually became clear was the fault of the subtitle. This whole story was a nightmare, and while it started off fun and a little more grounded, it got even more crazy. It started relying on dream logic, which made the story a little hard to follow, but even more farcical. It was a fun book overall, even though it got a little too weird for me near the end. If the book had been more like the beginning, it would have been amazing, but it was still strong enough to garner a recommendation from me.
The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare was written by GK Chesterton, 1908.
Categories: Page Turners