Before I read this the only things I had ever read by Chesterton were a couple of short Fr. Brown stories, which I quite liked. Pretty much every blogger I’ve ever read and half of my favorite authors love Chesterton, and he sounded right up my alley – like the C.S. Lewis of an earlier generation. So of course I had to try him out.
Here are my thoughts on Chesterton’s most famous novel, “The Man Who Was Thursday”:
The comparisons to Lewis were well-founded. Besides having a surprisingly similar life trajectory – Chesterton was an atheist convert to Christianity who, like Lewis, seemed to fear the implications of conversion – the book is as theologically rich as anything that Lewis wrote. The main difference I got is that Chesterton is much funnier, or at least, he’s more obviously funny. Lewis’s brand of humor is much dryer. Lewis’s books are also more openly allegorical than Chesterton’s. The mysterious Sunday is a much more mysterious a figure than Aslan from the Narnia books, or even, if you want to use an “adult” example, the Oyarosa of Mars in “Out of the Silent Planet”.
“The Man Who Was Thursday” is one of the funniest books I have ever read (with one of the best titles). Everything about it, from the absurd premise to the over-the-top characters to the silly situations that play out is funny. If this book is really Chesterton’s masterpiece it must be among the funniest masterpieces of any author I’ve heard of who isn’t an out and out humor writer (like Douglas Adams or Terry Pratchett).
The book was a real page-turner, in the best sense of the word. I haven’t been as hooked as I was with this book for a long time. I was literally staying up until three or four in the morning because I didn’t want to stop reading.
The plot, such as it is, is an unusual one, as you might gather from my description. Gabriel Syme, a poet, accepts an offer from an anarchist to attend a secret meeting on the grounds that he doesn’t reveal anything he learns about the organization to Scotland Yard. And that’s all I’m going to say on that subject, because every single thing that follows is wonderfully twisted. To give anything away would spoil the fun of a first reading.
The ending of the book is famously surreal and obscure, and I’m not going to pretend I “got it” more than anybody else did – yes, I did indeed look up what the ending “meant” after I finished the book. Still, unusual though it is, it is undeniably compelling reading, and ultimately satisfying.
The plot has also given me some excellent ideas to use for my novel. Hopefully I can use them as the “glue” that will bring its three disparate plot threads together.
Chesterton is a wonderful writer. As of now I still prefer Lewis and his more heavily allegorical style, but I’ve already started “The Napoleon of Notting Hill” and intend to read his non-fiction soon as well. “The Man Who Was Thursday” comes with my very highest recommendation.