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Lunch » Tags » Book » Reviews » The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare (Modern Library Classics) » User review

Nihilistic buffoonery that opens the door to truth, understanding and redemption.

  • May 9, 2013
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Because of our own doing, evil has been given a permanent place in our world, and G.K. Chesterton's The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare, illustrates that fact perfectly.

At the very beginning of the novel, the daylight scene of the neighborhood changes by nightfall to a reality that is mind-bending and questionable, at best: "More especially this attractive unreality fell upon it about nightfall, when the extravagant roofs were dark against the afterglow and the whole insane village seemed as separate as a drifting cloud. " Page eight. As that evolution of perception can be placed upon an environment, again by our doing, how can that affect the perception of the people who are occupied within its confines? It does, yet it does so on a deeper plain. When is the presentation of goodness real goodness versus goodness out of obligation or duty? And can the person discern kindly obligation vis-a-vis authentic Christian goodness? Or are the two so firmly meshed together that they can not be extricated, for past events have indeed raised that question mark. It is a slippery slope, and one must always be on guard when goodness is used in order to obtain something compared to when something is offered freely without expectations or obligations, and we are speaking about the philosophical, and especially the theological here. Who can be trusted, and who can not be? Even though the act of proving oneself is cyclical, who is more credible, the one or the other, and what if the two are a part of the same circle and there is a divide, as say in religion? Who will predominate? Who is truer to God? And are facades used to mislead people? It has happened before.

What I enjoyed very much about The Man Who Was Thursday was that it raised an assortment of these types of questions upon my reading it, and they too were applicable in regards to faith and the Catholic Church, whose exposed duplicity (and I say that without spite) also raised a vast array of questions. As human beings are inherently fallible, religious or otherwise, it is faith (choose your denomination) that is the stabilizer for the unsteady human condition: "'You were,' said Syme seriously, and hung the heavy lantern over the front. There was a certain allegory of their whole position in the contrast between the modern automobile and its strange, ecclesiastical lamp." P. 137. The strange, ecclesiastical lamp was doubtlessly symbolic of the light of Christ, the light of God, who is Truth in times of duplicity and doubt, where people, the anarchists, who appear to be anything what they really are. And when you can not even trust those who are close to you, which happens quite frequently to the characters in The Man Who Was Thursday, via fumbling idiocy and gnawing black doubt, you can only trust the light and blood of Christ as the last vestage of hope, for that love is life changing, and pages 163 through 167 are vital to the minute comprehension of that unknown gloriousness, for Sunday, towards the latter end of the novel, for escape purposes, rises via the aid of a balloon in a bumbling form of resurrection that is humanly endearing, pleasing and desirious in its own right.

Another element that makes The Man Who Was Thursday so appealing is that it has such an in-your-face truth offering in respects to people of power and authority and those who abuse that authority that is anything but faith-oriented: "The only crime of the Government is that it governs. The unpardonable sin of the supreme power is that it is supreme. I do not curse you for being cruel. I do not curse you (though I might) for being kind. I curse you for being safe! You sit in your chairs of stone, and have never come down from them..." Page 180. For someone in any capacity of religious or poiltical authority, who abuse their power and overlook their fallibility, to be privy to an act of evil (you choose what evil) and yet stay stoned silent, that is where that Light needs to seep into. Let not pride or the haughty veneer of what one is or desires to be prevent that.

In order to accept faith, one must know fully what he or she is, and that is what makes the novel so uplifting and jolly; it is an optimistic novel, because it mocks the bleakness of nihilism. Chesterton even has the happy-go-lucky audacity of inserting himself in the novel, but he does so with the full knowledge of where he came from, and where, in the end of life, he is fortunately going towards. "Chesterton is so thrilled by his acrobatic stroll along the razor's edge of nihilism that he earns hus sunniness a new on every page."--xvi. It is because he was never alone. We do seem to forget that every now and then.
Nihilistic buffoonery that opens the door to truth, understanding and redemption.

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review by . March 25, 2007
Because of our own doing, evil has been given a permanent place in our world, and G.K. Chesterton's The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare, illustrates that fact perfectly.     At the very beginning of the novel, the daylight scene of the neighborhood changes by nightfall to a reality that is mind-bending and questionable, at best: "More especially this attractive unreality fell upon it about nightfall, when the extravagant roofs were dark against the afterglow and the whole insane …
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In an article published the day before his death, G.K. Chesterton calledThe 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...
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ISBN-10: 0375757910
ISBN-13: 978-0375757914
Author: G.K. Chesterton
Genre: Religion & Spirituality, Mystery & Thrillers
Publisher: Modern Library
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