Thanks to whoever recommended this to me – I know it was someone on LJ.

It begins with a scene which I found a bit hard to get into, in which Syme, a policeman, debates an anarchist poet, Gregory, over the meaning and value of anarchy and poetry. Determined to prove the strength of his convictions, Gregory swears Syme to secrecy, then takes him to a meeting of grotesque anarchist terrorists, each named for a day of the week. The role of “Thursday” is currently up for election…

I don’t want to spoil what happens next. The person who recommended it to me noted that it was better read knowing as little about it as possible. This was an excellent suggestion. I had absolutely no idea where the story was going until about a third of the way in, and even then, the ending came as a marvelous surprise.

It’s a surrealist allegory, an absurdist comedy, a debate on the nature of evil and the ways of God, full of nightmarish or farcical or beautiful set-pieces, and very wittily written.

Here Symes is running through a zoo in search of a hansom cab with which to pursue someone who is riding an elephant:

As they raced along to the gate out of which the elephant had vanished, Syme felt a glaring panorama of the strange animals in the cages which they passed. Afterwards he thought it queer that he should have seen them so clearly. He remembered especially seeing pelicans, with their preposterous, pendant throats. He wondered why the pelican was the symbol of charity, except it was that it wanted a good deal of charity to admire a pelican. He remembered a hornbill, which was simply a huge yellow beak with a small bird tied on behind it. The whole gave him a sensation, the vividness of which he could not explain, that Nature was always making quite mysterious jokes. Sunday had told them that they would understand him when they had understood the stars. He wondered whether even the archangels understood the hornbill.

While the prose style and social preoccupations of the time of writing (1908) have gone out of fashion, and the majority of my readers will probably object to the politics, not to mention the lack of female characters, this is a pretty amazing book, and one which I will undoubtedly re-read.

Spoilers are allegorical )

Feel free to discuss with spoilers in comments.

The novel is available free on Project Gutenberg and at Amazon: The Man Who Was Thursday, a nightmare


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