Why did both Franz Kafka and Simon Leys admire Chesterton's "Man Who Was Thursday"?
If any novel can be claimed to have a truly catholic form of Cabalism, it is this.
The great thing about Chesterton's "Man Who Was Thursday" is its perfect uselessness as idea, and perfect utility as image. It is an extended platonic fable, without the dialog surrouning it.
Oddly enough, the dialog never ceases. People talk non-stop, but never on the topic. And what is the topic? The true nature of the topic of "The Man Who Was Thursday" is occult, hidden behind the symbols.
What about the ideas? The ideas, such as they are trivial or universal, are presented with the same rapid insipidity of tone and pronounced with an air of waspish decision. No; in this novella the image is all.
What inspired me to read it was literary gossip from Simon Leys that this book was a great favourite of Kafka. What kind of novel (I wondered) could both Kafka and Leys could admire? A non-novel, that's the kind of novel they both admire.
It must be admitted up front that "Thursday" is a badly written book. Chesterton's action scenes are clumsy, and the scene transitions are amateurish more than half the time. "The Man Who Was Thursday" is the work of an amateur - which explains why Leys liked it, since he placed the amateur in a privileged position. But it is also Cabalistic, and that explains why Kafka liked it.
How is it cabalistic? It begins as a mood piece, a symbolist painting in words. Then it ends in a Dantean way, with pure mediaeval pageant. And the funny thing about the final scenes is that, while they absurd by any reasonable standards, they resonate in the soul in the most unusual way: it effects one in the same way as the Christian communion.
What other novel can you read that reminds of the Christian communion? None that I know of. And yet that is the only and exact sensation of the closing scenes of this novel: "The Man Who Was Thursday" ends with a grand image of the Communion of all Creation.
It is not a likeable or entertaining or even a well-made novel, but it is superb. And that is why both men like it.