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The Third Policeman

by Flann O'Brien

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
3,7421062,491 (4.03)229
Flann O'Brien's most popular and surrealistic novel concerns an imaginary, hellish village police force and a local murder. Weird, satirical, and very funny, its popularity has suddenly increased after the novel was featured in the October 2005 episode of the hit television series Lost.
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» See also 229 mentions

English (102)  Spanish (1)  Greek (1)  Swedish (1)  German (1)  All languages (106)
Showing 1-5 of 102 (next | show all)
Near the outset of Flann O’Brien’s wild The Third Policeman, the unnamed first-person narrator and his business partner Divney settle on a plot to murder Mathers and steal his fortune, purportedly kept in a steel cashbox. In short order the deed is done (by our narrator), after which the narrative takes a turn, plunging us into the confusing, the confoundingly funny, and the downright weird. Fortunately, O’Brien plays with our minds and our language is a most diverting way, and I found myself laughing while I worried for our hero, almost certain to die.

I can do no better than quote a few passages, to give you the flavor of the book: on an outing with a police Sergeant, the narrator and a man named Gilhaney search for Gilhaney’s stolen bicycle (Chap. 6):

“We were now going through a country full of fine enduring trees where it was always five o’clock in the afternoon. It was a soft corner of the world, free from inquisitions and disputations and very soothing and sleepening on the mind. There was no animal there that was bigger than a man’s thumb and no noise superior to that which the Sergeant was making with his nose, an unusual brand of music like wind in the chimney. ”

Chapter 6 again:

“Before we had time to listen carefully to what he was after saying he was half-way down the road with his forked coat sailing behind him on the sustenance of the wind he was raising by reason of his headlong acceleration.
‘A droll man,’ I ventured.
‘A constituent man,’ said the Sergeant, ‘largely instrumental but volubly fervous.”

Such are the locutions of our characters, but I have not spent any words on the outré buildings, oddball, unexplained plot events, and existential threat which our narrator in turn faces. I have also not mentioned the cockeyed life, work, and honored reputation of the writer, experimentalist, and philosopher de Selby, about whose work our narrator is something of a scholar. Discussions, asides and lengthy footnotes leaven the early chapters, and make their highly comic appearance throughout. I have no idea what the author means with this addition, except to double our fun.

This novel will amuse and bemuse you, and you will wonder a few times, what is the point? There is definitely a point, dear readers, and well worth sticking around through the 19th-century horror passages for. This novel is a classic of its type: dark, atmospheric, and laugh-out-loud funny.

https://bassoprofundo1.blogspot.com/2021/07/the-third-policeman-by-flann-obrien.... ( )
  LukeS | Jul 23, 2021 |
"... the beauty of reading a page of de Selby is that it leads one inescapably to the happy conviction that one is not, of all nincompoops, the greatest."

I don't know why it's taken me so long to read Flann O'Brien. Perhaps his work has been a Schrödinger's Book, for me: as long as his books were unread, in their sealed box, they could be both the Greatest Surreal Irish Humor Ever Written and an incredibly lame disappointment. I could go along, complacently, in both states simultaneously.

BUT ... realities must be faced. The cat is scratching furiously at the inside of the box, and meowing plaintively ( ... The book is ... scratching furiously ... Sorry, the analogy kind of got away from me there ...), and my first Flann O'Brien has been read, and I am delighted to say that it is a TREAT.

OK, yes, it's like a Monty Python sketch, on acid, and inflated to the length of a 200 page book. And yes, O'Brien sometimes was inebriated with the exuberance of his own verbosity. (The four page footnotes, in 8pt font should be a bit of a giveaway ...) but it is very, very funny.

So many, many excellent excellent reviews here, entering fully into the spirit of the thing, that I don't feel that I have much that I can add. Some very enlightening reviews, too. (Learning that Brian O'Nolan/Flann O'Brien was so disappointed by the reaction to his novel, when he hawked the manuscript around in the late 30s/early 40s, that he claimed to have lost it, and it was only rediscovered and published after his death, is so meta I want to die of happiness.)

I just hope that, somewhere, he knows that what he's written was just the pancake.

One thought that I'd like to share: the fingerprints of The Third Policeman are on every example of Irish humor that I can think of. Father Ted? (With priests instead of policemen ... ) Derry Girls? (Girls swapped for boys. And James is a bicycle ...) Any of the works of Martin McDonagh, including the glorious In Bruges? Having read The Third Policeman, a LOT of things in that movie suddenly made a lot more sense to me ...

"Strange enlightenments are vouchsafed," I murmured, "to those who seek the higher places." ( )
  maura853 | Jul 11, 2021 |
A man commits a murder, then becomes involves in a series of philosophical discussions about bicycles. Uh, no, that's not it. A man commits a murder then encounters two strange policemen, including one engaged in building a series of smaller and smaller boxes. No, that's not it either. A man is obsessed with an obscure author, de Selby, who believed the world was shaped like a sausage--but that has little to do with the murder despite all the footnotes, so that's not it either. How about a man is cheated by another man, whom he trusts so little, he has to sleep with him every night to be sure he isn't stealing stuff. Well, that's not quite it either. This book is reputed to be funny, but it is much more odd than it is funny. In one sense, it is like the work of Eric McCormack, which I absolutely love, in its obsession with odd events and one-legged men, but The Third Policeman lacks the real heart and soul and pleasure that McCormack's books provide. The Third Policeman is enjoyable, and not overlong, but it never really fully satisfied me as a reader.

The audiobook is very well read. ( )
  datrappert | Jan 28, 2021 |
Such a strange book. Utterly surreal at times, complete nonsense mostly. However I do like MacCruiskeen a little, and it's good for a chuckle now and then. ( )
  5hrdrive | Jan 19, 2021 |
A truly great book. One of the funniest ever written. A postmodern masterpiece. ( )
  ansedor | Oct 13, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 102 (next | show all)

» Add other authors (9 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
O'Brien, Flannprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Bantock, NickCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Donoghue, DenisAfterword, Introductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Drews, KristiinaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hedlund, MagnusTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Norton, JimNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Rowohlt, HarryTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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"Human existence being an hallucination containing in itself the secondary hallucinations of day and night (the latter an insanitary condition of the atmosphere due to accretions of black air) it ill becomes any man of sense to be concerned at the illusory approach of the supreme hallucination known as death."
~ de Selby
"Since the affairs of men rest still uncertain,/ Let's reason with the worst that may befall."
~ Shakespeare
First words
Not everybody knows how I killed old Phillip Mathers, smashing his jaw in with my spade; but first it is better to speak of my friendship with John Divney because it was he who first knocked old Mathers down by giving him a great blow in the neck with a special bicycle-pump which he manufactured himself out of a hollow iron bar.
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Flann O'Brien's most popular and surrealistic novel concerns an imaginary, hellish village police force and a local murder. Weird, satirical, and very funny, its popularity has suddenly increased after the novel was featured in the October 2005 episode of the hit television series Lost.

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a book once read -- upside down | stories get -- dead forgotten

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