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realjimbob

REALJimBob

Fortysomething, photographer slacker, working in IT, living in Greenwich; failed polymath; drinks and eats too much, reads too little...

The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare - G.K. Chesterton, Kingsley Amis, Matthew Beaumont Another one from the Waterstones London books display that Louise and I bought too many books from (I keep thinking I've read them all then I find another one in one of my many piles of unread books), The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare. This introduction begins with the warning: "First-time readers should be aware that details of the plot are revealed in this Introduction" and like a fool I breezed past the signs – how much are they going to give away in the introduction? Turns out, a lot. More a criticism of the novel than a straight introduction it pretty much tears the whole plot apart, laying bare all the surprises and plot twists in front of the idiot reader. After the novel I think it would have made perfect sense; once I'd started it was like an accident in slow motion – I knew I should skip ahead, but I just couldn't. The footnotes though I found irritating for other reasons. Firstly, they aren't footnotes, they're at the end of the book and I hate having to flick back and forth to read the notes. If they're that important put them at the bottom of the page where I can just glance down. Secondly though, many of them just weren't that important and it felt a bit like I was wasting calories flicking those pages each time just in case the note would bring some insight that I'd otherwise miss. We are informed that "new women" is a code for feminists; that a "crême-de-menthe" is a syrupy mint liqueur; that a "screw" can refer to a cylindrical mechanical appliance or a thumbscrew; that Harrow is a public school on the edge of London or that "Albert Hall" refers to the Royal Albert Hall, a theatre in London. All facts that some people won't know to be sure, but also facts that the knowing adds so little to the story, could be inferred from the context, or flicking back to the footnote becomes a distraction.

Once we get beyond the publication, and concentrate on the text, we have a truly amazing story, the likes of which I don't think I've every read before. Gabriel Syme starts to taunt an anarchist speaker, Lucien Gregory (Beaumont is keen to point out that we're supposed to have noticed that these are Gabriel and Lucifer), for not being anarchist enough. Talking is just talking, but doing is where the real anarchists should be. Before long, after extracting a promise that he not tell the Police about anything he sees there, Lucien has dragged Gabriel along to the meeting of the London branch of the New Anarchists where he expects to be elected as the new Thursday to the Central Anarchist Council. Each following chapter peels back a layer, as first Gabriel Syme's secret is revealed to Lucien (under a promise not to tell the other anarchists), then the secrets of the Central Anarchist Council are revealed one after another as each member of the council is broken down in turn. I'm still not quite sure why anarchists feel the need to have meetings, secret codes, branches in London (or other cities) or any kind of central council. Aren't anarchists supposed to be less about the formal structures?

Finally, for those smart enough to resist the urge to read spoiler introductions, but not to resist the urge to read spoilers in Goodreads reviews I'll just say that Syme gets elected as Thursday instead of Lucien, Syme is also a policeman, all the members of the Central Anarchist Council turn out to be undercover policemen, and Sunday, the leader of the council, also turns out to be the leader of the police force – so there!