Dan Sandman

19: The Man Who Was Thursday by G. K. Chesterton

In Books, Comedy, Fiction, Spy on 08/05/2015 at 12:00 pm

The Man Who Was ThursdayI came across this by chance in a charity shop in Belsize Park, near where I live in London. The first page was enticing, so I finished a chapter on the walk home. And I must say, that reading whilst you’re walking really is an incredible pastime – at least when the weather is nice. But I digress, back to the serious literary review.

The Man Who Was Thursday (1908) is somewhat of a mix, partly being a novel about spies and partly being a novel about anarchists. One thing however remains consistent, it is brilliantly written and makes fun out of some pretty serious topics. You see, as Joseph Conrad made clear in his spy / anarchist novel The Secret Agent (1907), anarchistic dynamiters were a serious threat to stability just before the First World War. Knowing this puts a brave satiric slant on the work, a bit like writers who take the piss out of Islamic terrorism in today’s terms, sometimes at their peril. Even without the relevant historic context, the book is still an hilarious fantasy constructed by a magical storyteller.

And the style is accessible in a way that contemporary novelists never quite seem to master, perhaps barring the excellent Alexander McCall Smith. It seems that, in the days before television, writers could actually grab your imagination and bring it closer to their own way of seeing things. I guess Conrad in a way, was the one who broke that mould and successfully got inside our heads, which led to less accessible literature for English academics to dissect. This book would have been exciting in its day for the way it uses the precision of an H. G. Welles to tell a fantastic story; today it is refreshing because it feels completely original and can be easily read several times.

Read this book.

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