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January 2009
 
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The Man Who Was Thursday; A Nightmare, by G.K. Chesterton (1908)

THIS bizarre, surreal, and hilarious novel of one century ago features a plotline shockingly relevant to our own time…filled with terrorist cabals and suicide bombers.

One evening Gabriel Syme, a young idealist, is enticed into a pitch-black room, interviewed by an unseen man, and recruited into a secret agency dedicated to catching anarchists. But the anarchists are organized; they have democratically elected a council of seven men, each code-named for a day of the week. Syme infiltrates the council and is elected the new Thursday.

Each of the other six anarchists has his own bizarre traits and secrets, as Syme gradually discovers. But the strangest and most terrifying anarchist is the group's cryptic leader, Sunday.

The story is a constant flow of action, including probably the very first car chase in popular fiction. There's also an elephant chase, a balloon chase, and the whole universe inside a masquerade party.

The entire novel has the feel of a nightmare: a dreamscape filled with bright kaleidoscoping colors yet with the ever-present dominance of red. Enormous faces loom everywhere, arousing a dreadful memory from Syme's childhood. Puns, wordplay, and obscure references abound.

The Man Who Was Thursday is a clear influence on the TV series The Prisoner, featuring a similar use of symbols and images with multiple interpretations in a global village where individuality is malleable. In an essay published the day before his death, Gilbert Keith Chesterton (1874-1936) stated that this novel represents humanity's triumph over pessimism.

—F. Gwynplaine MacIntyre

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