4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
The Dreams of Thursday and the Nightmare of Sunday,
This review is from: The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare (Penguin Classics) (Mass Market Paperback)
A great little book with scattered flashes of genius. A treatise on theology and rebellion posing as a crime thriller. Which is hardly the most world-shattering of concepts, but Chesterton delivers on several fronts that raise this above a mere Trojan horse for the prejudices of orthodox Christianity. First, the man could turn a phrase. While not quite the thrill-fest the cover proclaims, it certainly exerts a strong grip from the off and quickly conjures up an underground London that might remind contemporary readers of Michael Moorcock (in 'Mother London') or Alan Moore (think a cross between 'From Hell' and 'The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen'). Second, while Chesterton obviously has an agenda, the characters breathe life, especially as they begin to shed their disguises. Sunday, in particular, is a creation of terrific (and terrifying) joy. This reader certainly found himself pulled into the tide. Third, the central conceit is rare in being both simple and sustained in its intrigue. That occasionally leads to moments that match the unsettling quality of the title, surely one of the best in the history of writing: 'The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare'.
Whether because of the period in which it was written or because of a certain idea of formal narrative, the central trope, and its accompanying twists, quickly become predictable. 'Predictable' only in the sense that the 'twists' are not really that - more structuring points for an otherwise turbulent journey. As in any good detective tale, much of the pleasure comes from finding out how these expected scenarios emerge and are resolved. But that doesn't quite make up for the sag of the middle and end sections. So not a perfect book.
Politically, perhaps unsurprisingly, Chesterton delights in a series of straw men and clichés - the anarchist as devotee of mindless destruction, orthodoxy as the real rebellion, idiosyncratic romantic posturing posing as revolutionary politics, the necessity of a God-head for any kind of decent morality, etc. It is perhaps the mark of a great writer (as in the case of Anthony Burgess) that the quality of the work exceeds these pathetic (and reactionary) political prejudices. This is not a cutting dissection of radical politics. But it is a great book. And it does end up suggesting some powerful, perhaps even existential, ideas about the escape from religious hierarchy, if one that works contrary to Chesterton's intentions. Well worth your time.
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Initial post: 15 Jan 2014 20:47:30 GMT
'Well worth your time': I couldn't agree more. There are many longer books less worth a read and less provoking.
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