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The Third Policeman [Paperback]

Flann O'Brien
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (77 customer reviews)

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Book Description

17 April 2001

‘Wonderful. The Third Policeman is a great masterpiece of black humour.’ George Mackay Brown

A thriller, a hilarious comic satire about an archetypal village police force, a surrealistic vision of eternity, the story of a tender, brief, unrequited love affair between a man and his bicycle, and a chilling fable of unending guilt, The Third Policeman is comparable only to Alice in Wonderland as an allegory of the absurd. Distinguished by endless comic invention and its delicate balancing of logic and fantasy, The Third Policeman is unique in the English language.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Flamingo; (Reissue) edition (17 April 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0007115210
  • ISBN-13: 978-0007115211
  • Product Dimensions: 17.4 x 11 x 1.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (77 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 721,674 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


“Flann O’Brien learned from Joyce the art of tuning language to a lyrical pitch, which he could then turn to his purpose, whether it was to be plain foolery, unconcealed indignation or high comedy. The best of his contemporaries and many subsequent Irish writers have much to thank him for.”
Sunday Times

“Flann O’Brien is inventive, his storytelling is swift and sure, making the eccentric seem natural and the commonplace hilarious.”
The Times

“Even with Ulysses and Finnegans Wake behind him, James Joyce might have been envious.”

From the Back Cover

"Of all O'Brien's books, 'The Third Policeman' seems to have the most gripping, complete and beautifully fashioned insanity. This is the kind of work that could give post-modernism a good name."

'How desirable her seat was, how charming the invitation of her slim encircling handle-arms, how unaccountably competent and reassuring her pump resting warmly against her thigh! I knew that I liked this bicycle more than I had ever liked any other bicycle, better even than I had liked some people with two legs…'

"Wonderful… you may want to padlock it in a darkened cupboard for fear its inventive brilliance will drive you mad. O'Brien's eccentric linguistic genius rivals that of Joyce, and his ability to drop a joke into the surrealist void is on a par with Beckett's. This novel is impossible, unreasonable, unconscionable and will leave the reader permanently suspicious of bicycles."

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Hello, Hello, Hello .... 17 Feb 2010
If someone put a gun to my head and asked me to name my favourite book evereverever, I'd scream, "The Third Policeman by Flann O'Brien", and then I'd disarm the cowardly weasel with some nifty kung-fu moves. This is a Great book. It is probably one of the most intelligent, warped and pant-wettingly hilarious novels ever written. I cannot describe the plot without giving away its sublime surprises ... but it does contain some odd notions about bicycles, the king of the one-legged-men, and some mind-imploding cod-science. Flann O'Brien ... Gord bliss him for sharing his genius and giving us this wonderful thing.
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30 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the best 19 May 2007
I've recently re-read this book after many years and on finishing it my thoughts now are exactly the same as they were the first time.

"Flann O'Brien is a twisted genius."

The language, the turn of phrase and the surreal aspects to the story (including the often hilarious footnotes) are unparalleled. This is a brilliant book and your life is much less complete without reading it.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Review of audiobook 14 Aug 2007
Format:Audio CD
Naxos should be praised for releasing The Third Policeman as an audiobook and getting one of Ireland's finest actors, Jim Norton, to read it.
Fans of the book will find the reading opens up the story, and if you love the book this CD is essential. The atmosphere of the strange countryside the narrator travels in, the comic conversations, the obsession with bicycles - all these and more come alive.
Norton's reading is, at first shade brisk, but the listener quickly adapts to it. He adopts a confidential tone that matches O'Brien's prose style, which itself counterpoints the absurdist story.
All the voices are beautifully delineated, except the voice of Joe, which is a little too much like the narrator's. I feel embarrassed to level any criticism at this recording, but I might as well be honest about it.
That aside, it's a triumph.
Towards the end of his life O'Brien enjoyed a stage adaptation of The Dalkey Archive - and I'm sure he would have loved Norton's reading of The Third Policeman just as much.
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82 of 88 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Don't get Lost... 16 Mar 2006
If you're coming to this book after the hype about it appearing on Lost, then the first thing you need to know is that it's one of the strangest books you're ever likely to read - and if it's not, I'll have some of what you're having. The Third Policeman is a remarkable book by any standards, even if (like me, hem hem) you fail to grasp the ending until you read the publisher's footnote afterwards. In fact the second half generally is not as hot as the first, and O'Brien seems to tread water most of the time after positively squirming with creative energy for the first hundred-odd pages. The book was written in 1940 but not published until 1967, after his death. It is narrated by a man who has literally no name, who has murdered someone for money and sets about recovering the stash. In doing so he encounters mad policemen obsessed with bicycles (including the eponymous third one), the atomic physics, and scale and size.
One of the finest long passages in the book, which had me drumming my heels in pure visceral pleasure, is when the policeman MacCruiskeen shows the narrator a little wooden chest he has made, "perfect in its proportions and without fault in its workmanship." It turns out that he has made thirty more, each smaller than the last and contained inside its predecessor, of which series even the thirteenth one was so small it "took me three years to make and it took me another year to believe that I had made it." What I particularly delighted in was the off-kilter and yet just-so dialogue between the policeman and our man:
"There now," said MacCruiskeen.
"It is nearly too nice," I said at last, "to talk about it.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars If you're worth your salt, you'll read this 16 April 2010
Whenever I try to explain what this book is about to anyone, I cannot do the task justice. It is in part a thriller, a murder mystery, a dark comedy and a philosophical journey. It is self conscious and absurdist, but speaks greater sense than any book that immediately springs to my mind.

There is no point in explaining the story, as it is a faint one, providing a vehicle for settings and wonderful moments, that seemingly stretch into infinity. Remember when you were a child and things seemed to have a less definitive form, and the world was more ready to confess it's dream-like nature? This book captures that. It is a book about form and formlessness and the nature of all things, as experienced through the agony of being a living thing.

The most significant feature this book has to offer is the way it is written. Flann O'Brien is compared to James Joyce not without good cause, amidst the swathes of irony, suggestion and paradox there is a distinctly Irish tone to a book that was way ahead of its time, and probably benefited from its initial refusal at the publishers desk.
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41 of 44 people found the following review helpful
I recommend that anyone with a sense of humour reads this book. I first read this at school aged 15 and loved it. I have just re read it and realised that I hadn't even picked up the half of its brilliance.
Flann O'Brien (real name Brian O'Nolan, who also wrote under the pseudonym Myles na Gopaleen) is a genius. His imagination, his turn of phrase, his sense of humour, each of these would be the envy of many an acclaimed author. To have them all displayed so expertly in one novel... as you can tell I loved it. I have spent the past few days consistently hurting with laughter. Proper belly-laughter. After finishing the book I have gone back to re-read sections.
The story begins normally enough on an Irish farm. At the beginning the lyrical prose is entertaining enough, but following a rather dark crime by the narrator the book takes off, with the narrator trying to retain his sanity as event after surreal event unravels before him.
Anyone who can create the eminent philosopher De Selby, whose thoughts pepper the book deserves any praise that comes their way. De Selby's theories include, "A row of houses is a row of necessary evils" (houses have lead to the softening of the human race); "night is in fact accumulations of black air", a sort of volcanic dust which obscures day & consequently sleep is in fact a series of fits and heart attacks; "journeys are an hallucination"; and who, in my favourite moment, following up his theory that when you look at a reflection of yourself in the mirror you see a younger version of yourself, sets up two mirrors opposite each other, producing an infinite series of reflections. De Selby then looks through a telescope and claims to have seen himself as a young boy.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars his is absurdist, vacuous, hilarious (the De Selby ...
his is absurdist, vacuous, hilarious (the De Selby thing), maddening, slap stick, gripping, pointless and a whole load of other ists and ings that, in the end, provide a joke with... Read more
Published 8 days ago by K. Fuffel
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful writing, wonderful reading!
It is a real treat to listen to Jim Norton reading this marvellous book.
Would it ever be possible to give this honour to my most admired book by Flann O'Brien, At Swim Two... Read more
Published 1 month ago by E. J. Bucher
4.0 out of 5 stars Hard to believe this was written 75 years ago!
Recommended by a friend, very odd and entertaining, could of been written within the last few years and I would never have guessed. ..way ahead of its time.
Published 1 month ago by J. Rogers
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
Published 1 month ago by xxx
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent novel.
Unusual but compelling. Excellent novel.
Published 1 month ago by David New
5.0 out of 5 stars Got to read it
Fantastic story line, amazing vocabulary, simply a 'must' read.
Published 1 month ago by Mr. Christopher Hughes
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
One of lifes' conversation pieces.
Published 2 months ago by Mark Stirling
5.0 out of 5 stars Bonkers
Crazy book. It has a "Alice in wonderland" kind of feeling that makes it one of my new favourites.
Published 2 months ago by Natalia
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Funny and thought provoking. Recommended.
Published 3 months ago by mrs Maureen Vevers
4.0 out of 5 stars An interesting idea
The whole idea of this book is interesting, it kept my attention and is quite funny in a surreal way but it can drag a little in parts.
Published 3 months ago by Verne
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