Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Man Who Was Thursday

Powering through the challenge now, largely because the last few books have been fairly short. G.K Chesterton's unconventional thriller The Man Who Was Thursday is the 5th of the C authors and the 19th overall. Just as well I've had a few short ones, because looking ahead at the next book in the list I can see Susannah Clarke's Jonathan Strange and Mr Norell and that is a monster.

G.K Chesterton is best known as the author of the Father Brown mystery stories, but he also wrote unrelated fiction and non fiction books across a number of genres. Although The Man Who Was Thursday was listed as fantasy, it was far more of a thriller than anything. The only fantasy element may have been the unasnwered question of exactly what anarchist leader Sunday was.

The strange title refers to the habit of the anarchist group at the centre of the plot of giving their members the names of days of the week. The central character, undercover policeman Gabriel Syme was codenamed Thursday.

The plot, such as it is, is fairly basic. Undercover policeman and poet Gabriel Syme meets with another poet, who is also an anarchist and introduces Syme to his group of anarchists. As Syme meets and interacts with the other members of the group he discovers that they are all undercover law enforcement officers, all except for the group's president; the mysterious, monstrous and at times terrifying Sunday. I felt the entire story was silly beyond belief and often strayed into the territory of poorly written and realised farce. I was also expecting a fantasy, and this was not that.

In a note at the back Chesteron explains that the book was intended to describe a world of doubt and despair with a glimmer of hope that pessimists at the time did not believe existed. Given that he wrote the book in the early 1900's when the spectre of war hung over the world, this probably isn't all that surprising. I still found the ending and the book as a whole extremely unsatisfying and felt that the time spent reading it was a waste of my time.

On the theme of a mad chase in thriller mode Lord Jeffrey Archer's A Matter of Honour is far more interesting and better written. Although it's steampunk it is set not long before The Man Who Was Thursday, Peter Blaylock's Homunculus put me in mind of Chesterton's work. I also read that book for the challenge was distinctly unimpressed.

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