Sunday, February 02, 2020

Book review: THE MAN WHO WAS THURSDAY by G.K. Chesterton

THE MAN WHO WAS THURSDAY: A Nightmare (1908) by G. K. Chesterton

Chesterton is most famous for his "Father Brown" detective stories - which I have enjoyed. This novel, however, is structured more like a thriller.

The surface plot is about secret police infiltrating an Anarchist cabal that's plotting terrorist attacks. But it turns out the Anarchist menace is not what it seems...

I recall reading THE MAN WHO WAS THURSDAY when I was younger - and it made a better impression on me then, even though it mystified me... or rather I was impressed because I didn't quite understand it.

Now, when I read it as a more mature man, I understand it perfectly. It is a tract on behalf of the Catholic Church (which Chesterton converted to), pretending to be a thriller.

(The title ought to be simply "Join Us: A Tract".)

Chesterton not only tries to make this tract "entertaining" by cloaking the message in genre fiction, he also dumbs it down until it becomes patronizing. It is embarrassing to see an obviously intelligent writer dumb himself down for the sake of propaganda.

For example: in one passage, the characters are in need of a torchlight for their car. Someone brings a lantern that emits a cross-shaped light...

But that's not allegorical enough for Chesterton! He describes in sentimental terms how the lantern was delivered by a good man, and spells out in the text that the sight of the characters using that lantern seems like an allegory. (You know, in case the readers were too stupid to "get it.")

Not heavy-handed enough? How about the protagonist actually SAYING "the infallibility of the Pope" without irony? Or how about when Chesterton writes that a suspicious character looks "Jewish"? Groan. (There isn't room here for the issue of Chesterton's anti-Semitic tendencies, but they are duly noted.)

If you're a Christian - or if you dislike being condescended to - please avoid this book.
(Or read the "Father Brown" stories instead.)

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