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A daily record of what I'm thinking about what I'm reading

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Sunday, August 6, 2017

Don't expect a clear sense of an ending from Chesterton's The Man Who Was Thursday

Not surprising or even disappointing that G.K. Chesterton's The Man Who Was Thursday ends in a hot mess. How else could it end, really? The six undercover officers finally catch up w/ the President (Sunday) of the anarchist league and chase him across London in an absurd pursuit: first by horse-drawn cabs (the novel was written in 1908), then into the London zoo, where the president hops on an elephant and goes charging through the streets of London, then he's airborne in a balloon - and so forth. When they finally catch up w/ him at a big shindig in a mansion in the south of England, who turns up but the one true anarchist, and no attentive reader will be surprised that it's the poet from the first chapter - and he goes off in an unintelligeable rant about destruction - and one of the 7 responds with some hokey philosophy about all mus suffer - I really couldn't understand this. But does it matter? As Chesterton noted in a brief afterword, the subtitle of this work is "A Nightmare," and it really does just follow dream-logic, so don't go in expecting a satisfying and clarifying resolution. I think Kingsley Amis in the foreword oversold this novel, calling it one of the greatest he'd ever read - clearly he read it first as an impressionable youth and retained that impression over the course of his career. What the novel does provide are some amusing twists and intriguing passages of pursuit and intrigue; at times, it seemed a forerunner of Lovecraft's horror fiction. It also probes the social anxiety of its era, and ours, about the malignancy of terrorists and anarchists who destroy peace and order with no clear aim or intent other the disruption and destruction.

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