Synopses & Reviews
G. K. Chesterton's surreal masterpiece is a psychological thriller that centers on seven anarchists in turn-of-the-century London who call themselves by the names of the days of the week. Chesterton explores the meanings of their disguised identities in what is a fascinating mystery and, ultimately, a spellbinding allegory. As Jonathan Lethem remarks in his Introduction, "The real characters are the ideas. Chesterton's nutty agenda is really quite simple: to expose moral relativism and parlor nihilism for the devils he believes them to be. This wouldn't be interesting at all, though, if he didn't also show such passion for giving the devil his due. He animates the forces of chaos and anarchy with every ounce of imaginative verve and rhetorical force in his body."
About the Author
Chesterton was a critic, novelist, and poet. He studied art at the Slade School of Art, and then turned to writing. He became a Catholic in 1922, and then wrote mainly on religious topics, including lives of Francis of Assisi and Thomas Aquinas.
Jonathan Lethem is the author of five novels, including Motherless Brooklyn, which won the National Book Critics Circle Award. He lives in Brooklyn and Toronto.
Reading Group Guide
1. Discuss the Councils role as a secret society. What is important about their ability to function as a group and their determination to keep their activities secret? What is the point of their conspiracy?
2. What is the meaning of the books title? How does the titles ambiguity and mystery characterize the book as a whole? Is personal identity less important than collective identity, in Chestertons view? Does Syme, in effect, lose his identity? What does he gain?
3. What is the significance of the books subtitle, “A Nightmare”? What does Chesterton mean by this? Discuss the dedicatory poem that follows. What kind of tone is Chesterton trying to establish? Does he succeed?
4. Discuss the idea of anarchy as presented in the book. What kinds of activities does Gabriel Syme find himself engaged in? Are they dangerous to society, in your opinion? How do you reconcile the council members being revealed as policemen?
5. Critics have discussed the book as an allegorical work, particularly in Christian terms. Do you agree with this assessment? Who or what, in your opinion, does Sunday represent?