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3.7 out of 5 stars
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3.7 out of 5 stars
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on 4 February 2009
I made a bit of a mistake with this. I bought it hoping for a 'swashbuckling yarn' along the lines of The 39 Steps, King Solomon's Mines or The Prisoner of Zenda. What I got was a surreal fable, written in a very plain style, which ends without a satisfactory conclusion.

I suspect that this is in fact a very clever allegorical tale, but I am not clever enough to make sense of it and so found it a bit of a frustrating waste of time. That said it is only about 150 pages long and I what else are you going to on the Tube?
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on 28 October 2007
In a surreal turn-of-the-century London, Gabriel Syme, a poet, is recruited to a secret anti-anarchist taskforce at Scotland Yard. Lucian Gregory, an anarchist poet, is the only poet in Saffron Park, until he loses his temper in an argument over the purpose of poetry with Gabriel Syme, who takes the opposite view. After some time, the frustrated Gregory finds Syme and leads him to a local anarchist meeting-place to prove that he is a true anarchist. Instead of the anarchist Gregory getting elected, the officer Syme uses his wits and is elected as the local representative to the worldwide Central Council of Anarchists. The Council consists of seven men, each using the name of a day of the week as a code name; Syme is given the name of Thursday. The Secretary is Monday, Radcliffe is Wednesday, Gogol is Tuesday, Professor Worms is Friday, Dr Bull is Saturday and the President is Sunday. In his efforts to thwart the council's intentions, however, Syme discovers that five of the other six members are also undercover detectives; each was just as mysteriously employed and assigned to defeat the Council of Days. They all soon find out that they are fighting each other and not real anarchists; such was the mastermind plan of the genius Sunday. In a dizzying and surreal conclusion, the six champions of order and former anarchist ring-leaders chase down the disturbing and whimsical Sunday, the man who calls himself "The Peace of God".
The book was intended to describe the world of wild doubt and despair which the pessimists were generally describing at the beginning of the 20th century; with just a gleam of hope in some double meaning of the doubt, which even the pessimists felt in some fitful fashion.
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on 25 June 2011
Several years ago I bought this book purely for something different to read. Having started it late at night I read on oblivious to the time putting it down when I had finished it. Only then did I realise I had 20 minutes to get to work. It says it all, enjoy
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on 13 March 2014
A brief explanation of the plot:

Gabriel Syme is hired by a mysterious man in a pitch black room to work undercover for Scotland Yard, infiltrating a group of dangerous Anarchists who wish to tear down society as we know it. By a deliberate series of events Syme finds himself on the prestigious and mysterious committee of this "cult" and is given the name Thursday (all members of the council are named after the days of the week). From here on Syme uncovers a number oddities in his investigation and the plot becomes more and more surreal.

I really enjoyed this book for a number of reasons;

1) The writing style. Its right up my street. Reminds me particularly of the English translations of the works of Mikhail Bulgakov - filled with bristling moustaches, wild eyes and flared nostrils. What I particularly enjoy and appreciate that even though this was penned in 1908 it feels much more modern.

2) A fast pace. This book is only 174 pages long and takes you on a wild adventure through London and across the channel to France. The characters don't stop moving once and utilise a delightful array of transportation modes that will give a smart nod to Around the World in eighty days.

3) George Syme spends most of the novel half-cut, adding a wonderfully ridiculous air to the way he perceives the wild occurances he stumbles upon during his investigation/adventure.

4) The Christian allegories. He doesn't bother trying to be subtle and once you realise what's going on with the storyline you'll discover the entire book is littered with them and you feel embarrassed for not noticing them from the get-go.

For all my enjoyment of the book (I devoured it in 2 days!) I can't give it 5 stars for this simple reason: I have no idea what the plot was. It became so surreal that by the time you got to the epic reveal (a reveal I had guessed quite quickly which is sad) I could not for the life of me work out why their "leader" had pitted them against each other in this farcical story. I really loved the idea (this bit I didn't guess) that they were angels that represented the different creations on the days of the week in the Christian Bible but didn't understand what their purpose was. And then to throw Satan in at the end who asked them simply "have you ever suffered like me" really confused me.

To add to this I though it was an unnecessary move to pretend this was all a fanciful nightmare that Syme had had while awake and still conversing with Gregory (the poet he meets at the start). This added nothing to the narrative and instead made it look like that awful nightmare scene from Dallas.

Perhaps it was all a bit too "philosophical" for my coconut. I enjoyed it I just wasn't convinced of the point of it.
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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.

But the story isn't pedantic or boring; Chesterton keeps things lively by having his characters act like real people, rather than mouthpieces. From Symes to the Colonel to the mysterious Sunday himself, they all have a sort of friendly, energetic quality. "We're all spies! Come and have a drink!" one of the characters announces cheerfully near the end.

And of course, once the madcap police investigations are finished, there's still a mystery. Who is Sunday? What are his goals? And for that matter, WHAT is Sunday -- genius, force of nature, villain or god? The answer is a bit of a surprise, and as a reflection of Chesterton's beliefs, it's a delicate, intelligent piece of work.

"The Man Who Was Thursday" is a wacky, literate little satire that will both amuse and educate you. Not bad for a book often subtitled "A Nightmare."
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on 9 July 2007
This new edition from Penguin - part of a series of six 'Books for Boys' - is beautifully designed and produced, with a re-set text and lovely paper. And the book remains as funny and surprising as when it was written 100 years ago. Difficult not to enjoy if you like spy stories - and satires of them.
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on 19 October 2015
You can't really call this a mystery as I had worked out everything before the half way point but you could call it a caper, as it has an absurd sense of humour, quite witty dialogue and a generally brisk pace culminating in an elephant chase across central London! On the downside the text is full of quite unnecessary and unsubtle allusions to Christianity and the end of the book is a bit of nonsense and not in a good way! Still it's short, mostly fun and contains the odd intelligent political point that is still pertinent to our own age. To paraphrase a line from the book "The poor object to bad government, the rich object to any government" - perhaps more true today than then, as our rights are removed and the state dismantled at the behest of corporations and money men. Overall though, I get the impression Chesterton's personal beliefs were a hindrance to his writing rather than providing a philosophical bedrock to his writing.
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on 23 July 2016
A brilliant if at times confusing novel of the fantastique (not exactly fantasy as such, but pretty fantastical). Perhaps the first magic realist novel of the modern age (but that maybe stretching it a bit), painting a picture of a world where absolutely nothing is as it seems.

My second Chesterton novel (the first being The Napoleon of Notting Hill, also brilliant), but definitely the one that cemented an ongoing love affair with him.
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on 27 July 2011
The man who was Thursday is a classic thriller and adventure that captivates from the very first page. An english gentleman's word and honour is his bond and this mantra is woven masterfully as the central principle throughout the story. The classic protagonist, Syme's moral fibre is challenged in ways that seem largely lost in modern culture yet mercifully familiar. For that reason the deceptively simple strength and sense of honour throughout this book leaves the reader with a sense of pride in the human condition.

Thoroughly recommended. Just buy it
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TOP 100 REVIEWERon 25 July 2013
Fascinating and surreal, there is no doubt that this novel is well written. Despite being penned long enough ago to be considered a classic, it is perfectly readable and has a timeless quality. The plot is strange - a policeman is elected to a council of anarchists following a series of bizarre coincidences. What follows is even more ridiculous and yet oddly gripping. Unfortunately I quickly guessed the 'twist' and so nothing really surprised me plot wise, although I had fun getting there all the same. I'm not normally particularly good at foreseeing these things so I suspect it will be obvious to most readers. The best way to appreciate this book is to abandon all sense of logic and simply enjoy the ride. There are certainly deeper themes and allegories here, although those mostly passed me by. I'm sure someone could have a great time analysing the story though if they wanted to.

Although it is described as a 'nightmare', it isn't particularly frightening or dark. It's actually funny, in an absurd way. The nightmare sense is more from the surreal, dreamlike way certain events turn out, and some sequences in particular resemble common dreams - such as being chased by enemies that seem to catch up against all laws of physics. I liked the characters, although none are especially deep. All are well described.

This book will appeal to any readers who enjoy surreal or absurd stories, where nothing is quite as it seems. It's well written and entertaining, and even if you're not a particular fan of this genre, it's worth a go. As a short novel, even if you hate it, it won't take up too much reading time.
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