Several years ago I read The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare by G.K. Chesterton. I recall enjoying the style of Chesterton’s witty, whimsical prose and appreciating the absurdity of the situations and characters. My impression of the novel at that time was so favorable that when asked, I usually listed it alongside The Lord of the Rings and Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell as one of my favorite books. I haven’t read it since then, but it comes up in conversation occasionally, and it turns out reactions to the book are mixed. I told my brother-in-law that I finished the book thinking “that was pretty awesome.” He said when he finished reading it he wanted to kick it across the room. Clearly a book that warrants revisiting.
Here’s what I remember about the book: When it begins, the main character’s goal is to infiltrate a club of anarchists. As the story progresses it becomes clear that Things Are Not As They Seem, and Chesterton settles into a series of (intentionally?) repetitive revelations. By the final chapter, the events in the story (and the prose itself) descend into a flurry of anarchic absurdity. At the end, the story that Chesterton has told is vastly different than the one hinted at in the beginning.
The biggest impression the book left on me was Chesterton’s willingness to throw all pretense of realistic storytelling out the window and embrace sheer absurdity. I read the book around the same time I read Grant Morrison’s Final Crisis, (in which Superman sings an enemy into oblivion and a giant rabbit, pig, and poodle stand alongside the angels at the final battle) so my tolerance for and appreciation of utter zaniness was probably at an all-time high at that point. In retrospect, I don’t know what actual purpose that absurdity served, or even what the real point of the story was.
So I’m going to re-read the book and post my thoughts here, chapter by chapter. I wonder if I’ll still think it’s awesome, or if instead I’ll want to kick it across the room.