Author: G.K. Chesterton

Public Domain, 1908

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This book is a tricky one to sum up quickly. It opens with a conversation concerning poets and anarchy full of rich rhetoric akin to Plato’s Symposium. But the majority of the book is a police story thriller, a politically charged whodunit focusing on cloak-and-dagger anarchist society (pretty much a circa 1900 brandy sipping sleeper cell). As the plot unravels Chesterton turns the philosophical volume back up and as many existential questions are raised as plot secrets are revealed.

Syme is an undercover cop recruited to infiltrate a dangerous anarchist society. He finds an in through a man named Gregory, who he meets and philosophizes with in the park. Syme quickly talks his way into he upper echelon of the society and becomes one of the 7 ringleaders, and like the other six takes a name from a day of the week. It’s a lot like Reservoir Dogs actually, minus the bank heist and ear removal. Syme soon learns that he is not the only police officer in the group, and the enigmatic suspense story takes off.

The philosophy of the book is quite interesting, even if it sometimes seems to prattle a bit. There’s a lot of musing on human nature and existentialism. In discussing the Sunday, the leader, Syme  gets into a discourse on duality:

“Listen to me,” cried Syme with extraordinary emphasis. “Shall I tell you the secret of the whole world? It is that we have only known the back of the world. We see everything from behind, and it looks brutal. That is not a tree, but the back of a tree. That is not a cloud, but the back of a cloud. Cannot you see that everything is stooping and hiding a face? If we could only get round in front–

This is a smart read and at times a humorous and fun book. When the characters slip into the sometimes long and lofty speeches about morality and philosophy, the datedness shows through a bit. But if you’re a reader who likes reading classic books, and you’re up for a heady thriller,  you’ll find The Man Who Was Thursday to be a pleasant surprise.

Other books: The Erasers (Robbe-Grillet), Fight Club (Palahniuk), The Trial (Kafka), The Stranger (Camus)