Author(s): Flann O'Brien
The Third Policeman is Flann O'Brien's brilliantly dark comic novel about the nature of time, death, and existence. Told by a narrator who has committed a botched robbery and brutal murder, the novel follows him and his adventures in a two-dimensional police station where, through the theories of the scientist/philosopher de Selby, he is introduced to "Atomic Theory" and its relation to bicycles, the existence of eternity (which turns out to be just down the road), and de Selby's view that the earth is not round but "sausage-shaped." With the help of his newly found soul named "Joe, " he grapples with the riddles and contradictions that three eccentric policeman present to him. The last of O'Brien's novels to be published, The Third Policeman joins O'Brien's other fiction (At Swim-Two-Birds, The Poor Mouth, The Hard Life, The Best of Myles, and The Dalkey Archive) to ensure his place, along with James Joyce and Samuel Beckett, as one of Ireland's great comic geniuses.
[Long review:] “Bottomless wonders spring from simple rules repeated without end,” said the mathematician Benoit Mandelbrot. This very enjoyable comic novel reveals that, when irreverently applied to science and metaphysics, this observation could just as easily read “bottomless absurdities” or “bottomless horrors” (mind you, Mandelbrot’s fractal theory ‘proves’ that the coastline of any island is infinitely long, which is at once absurd, horrible and true). Falling somewhere in the triangle between Alice in Wonderland, Waiting for Godot and The Exploits and Opinions of Dr Faustroll, ‘Pataphysician, The Third Policeman tells of a chain of events triggered by a murder committed by the narrator (a scholar of the eccentric philosopher de Selby), his visit to a rural police station in a strangely altered bucolic Ireland, and his encounter with two singular policemen who introduce him to such wonders as a spear so sharp it draws blood some distance beyond its visible point, the base substance omnium that is manifest in any form, and an atomic theory that explains the slow transformation of humans into bicycles (and vice-versa) due to rough roads insufficiently maintained by the County Council. All of this (not to mention the crazed inventiveness of Sergeant Pluck’s diction) is a lot of fun if having the rug whipped out from under your feet only to discover that there is no floor beneath is your idea of fun. I have been haunted for years by the scene in which Policeman MacCruiskeen pulls out smaller and smaller boxes from inside each other far into the infravisible, and works on crafting a yet smaller box only to lose it on the floor and have it found by chance by a character named Gilhaney who was only pretending to find it.
[Short review:] It's about a bicycle.
Flann O'Brien was one of the many pseudonyms of Brian O'Nolan, author of the classic novel 'At Swim- Two-Birds' and, under the name Myles na Gopaleen, writer of a celebrated satirical column in the Irish Times which appeared daily for almost thirty years. Highly praised by Samuel Beckett and James Joyce, amongst others, O'Brien is regarded as one of the great comic writers of the twentieth century. He died in 1966.