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20th Century Man Who Was Thursday [Mass Market Paperback]

G K Chesterton , Kingsley Amis
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (66 customer reviews)

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Book Description

May 1 1990 Penguin Twentieth-Century Classics
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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In 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

Review

"A powerful picture of the loneliness and bewilderment which each of us encounters in his single-handed struggle with the universe."
--C. S. Lewis --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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THE suburb of Saffron Park lay on the sunset side of London, as red and ragged as a cloud of sunset. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars On Thursday Feb. 22 2007
By E. A Solinas HALL OF FAME TOP 10 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
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.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars On Thursday Sept. 11 2007
By E. A Solinas HALL OF FAME TOP 10 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
For a book that's as short as this one, "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.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Thrilling setup, lax ending Oct. 16 2006
By Krypter
Format:Paperback
Chesterton is indeed a double-crossing secret agent, for he sets up the reader for quite a fall in this novel of spies, anarchists, betrayal and backstabbing, and some readers may not forgive him for it. The first chapters are fantastic and hilarious, with brilliant portayals of earnest deceivers and treacherous stalwarts, gentlemen-police and erudite terrorists. When your childhood upbringing is chaos and constant rebellion, how would you rebel? Become an upstanding normal citizen, of course!

Chesterton cleverly dissects the serious issues of political extremism, government action, human self-delusion and the intricacies of conspiracy, but ultimately deceives the reader with an ending that veers offs wildly into surrealism and religious allegory, and this seriously weakens a novel that would have otherwise been on the highest level of literature. Despite its flaws, it remains a very potent dose of insanity in these trying modern times, and quite pertinent to modern politics as well.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A NIGTMARE IN THE KEY OF JOB Nov. 29 2003
Format:Mass Market Paperback
The thing that strikes me most abut this book is how relevant it is to today even though it was written almost a century ago. The boogyman of that time--the anarchist, has a lot in common with our own chosen boogyman--the terrorist. The response of the "heros" of the book are very similar to the response of the Western World of today: they are all over the map. One could get so caught up in counting similarities and dissecting philosophies, that the biggest, almost garishly glaring fact about The Man Who Was Thursday could be missed: it is a masterpiece.
The Man Who Was Thursday is a tense, masterfully structured thriller that has powerful echoes of the Biblical book of Job. Chesterton subtitled this novel "a nightimare."
The characters of The Man Who Was Thursday move through a world twisted by forces outside of their comprehension. They ultimately encounter the nightmare of a deity-figure who is more of a force of random and capricious nature than a personal being. God's non-answer in the book of Job is amplified to a worldview in The Man Who Was Thursday.
The genius of Chesterton is that his book produces a question in the soul of the attentive reader that demands and points the way to an answer.
This is indeed a book worthy of reading, reflection, and even interaction. It blows through you like a wind that cannot leave what it touches unchanged.
I give The Man Who Was Thursday my highest recommendation.
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Most recent customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars detective story, suspense writing, moving as investigator discovered...
G.K. Chesterton writes like no one else, I like his insights. my question, is it a disguise or does it reveal?
Published 20 months ago by Amazon Customer
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointed
It did not say that this was an enlarged book, so wide that it looks like a children's book. Disappointed by the book's dimensions... Read more
Published 21 months ago by Elena Rose Walker
5.0 out of 5 stars A Thriller With Moral Implications
This classic thriller is one of the books I have decided to read during my holiday on Gabriola and it is living up to its critical acclaim. Read more
Published on July 13 2012 by Ian Gordon Malcomson
5.0 out of 5 stars The Author Who was Brilliant...the publisher who was less so
As others have thoroughly reviewed the details of this story, I will reserve my comments for the overall impression I received from reading this short book. Read more
Published on Dec 18 2009 by D Glover
5.0 out of 5 stars The Author Who was Billiant
As others have thoroughly reviewed the details of this story, I will reserve my comments for the overall impression I received from reading this short book. Read more
Published on Dec 18 2009 by D Glover
5.0 out of 5 stars On Thursday
For a book that's as short as this one is, "The Man Who Was Thursday" is pretty packed.

G.K. Read more
Published on Jan. 11 2009 by E. A Solinas
5.0 out of 5 stars On Thursday
For a book that's as short as this one is, "The Man Who Was Thursday" is pretty packed.

G.K. Read more
Published on May 27 2008 by E. A Solinas
5.0 out of 5 stars only 5 stars because it doesn't go any higher...
This book is definitely a nightmare, and one of the greatest books ever written! Although Chesterton said, "A thing worth doing is worth doing badly" I doubt he took that advice... Read more
Published on Oct. 16 2007 by Nicholas D. Carvalho
5.0 out of 5 stars On Thursday
For a book that's as short as this one is, "The Man Who Was Thursday" is pretty packed.

G.K. Read more
Published on March 4 2007 by E. A Solinas
5.0 out of 5 stars On Thursday
For a book that's as short as this one is, "The Man Who Was Thursday" is pretty packed.

G.K. Read more
Published on Feb. 25 2007 by E. A Solinas
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