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on 30 May 2017
As this is regarded by many as a classic I felt it was something that I should read. For me it started off reasonably well and then got weirder and weirder. I eventually decided that life is too short to continue reading it and gave up. I realise this may reflect on me more than the book but it is not something that I often do.
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on 11 April 2014
I read this book when I was a student and loved it so I recently bought it to reread on my Kindle. Still a great read but spoilt by not having the footnotes incorporated into the text as they were in the original book. The footnotes were at the end and I found them inaccessible whilst reading the story. If you can afford it I would buy a paper copy.
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on 2 April 2017
i have several copies of this book, it is one everyone should read
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on 25 March 2017
what a book I wish I had read it years ago,
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on 14 June 2014
Having been corrupted at an early age by an extremely languorous young man by the name of Catherine my mother moved house several times before being caught up in a crime revolving around a certain royal personage for which she was summarily incarcerated in an uncarpeted corridor. And it was at this time that she first introduced me to the joys of the written word; the joys thereof, that is, when in comparison to our horrible reality, that is. Oh, to be a book, she would scream! To be in one, I mean. Rather than all this all too real and painful meaty death! Children run over and raped and animals eaten whichever way you look. Even as I expostulate some rich man or other is having his way at the expense of however many ordinary folk. And it was thus that I came to read 'The Third Policeman'. And thus to say it really is up there with Boyce and Jeckett, and wonder how and why and wow and simply hy the Irish seem to have achieved, and even O'Brien, with his 'What is the stars?' But then there's all that Geldof and Jedward and Louis Walsh and Boyzone/Westlife, and worst of all a Bono and the U2, and one quickly finds himself asking himself, something.
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on 16 March 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."
"I spent two years manufacturing it when I was a lad," said MacCruiskeen, "and it still takes me to the fair."
"It is unmentionable," I said.
"Very nearly," said MacCruiskeen.
Also the book has a running background featuring the works of mythical Irish philosopher de Selby (shades of Vonnegut here), who believed among other things that night was merely an accumulation of dark particles in the air caused by pollution, and that sleep was a series of fits brought on by exposure to the particles. Much of the stuff about his notions of the world and indeed his several commentators and biographers is richly inventive and comic.
"His theory as I understand it is as follows.
"If a man stands before a mirror and sees in it his reflection, what he sees is not a true reproduction of himself but a picture of himself when he was a younger man. De Selby's explanation of this phenomenon is quite simple. Light, as he points out truly enough, has an ascertained and finite rate of travel. Hence before the reflection of any object in a mirror can be said to be accomplished, it is necessary that rays of light should first strike the object and subsequently impinge on the glass, to be thrown back again to the object - to the eyes of the man, for instance. There is therefore an appreciable and calculable interval of time between the throwing by a man of a glance at his own face in a mirror and the registration of the reflected image in his eye.
"So far, one may say, so good. Whether this idea is right or wrong, the amount of time involved is so negligible that few reasonable people would argue the point. But de Selby ever loath to leave well enough alone, insists on reflecting the first reflection in a further mirror and professing to detect minute changes in this second image. Ultimately he constructed the familiar arrangement of parallel mirrors, each reflecting diminishing images of an interposed object indefinitely. The interposed object in this case was de Selby's own face and this he claims to have studied backwards through an infinity of reflections by means of "a powerful glass." What he states to have seen through his glass is astonishing. He claims to have noticed a growing youthfulness in the reflections of his face according as they receded, the most distant of them - too tiny to be visible to the naked eye - being the face of a beardless boy of twelve, and, to use his own words, "a countenance of singular beauty and nobility." He did not succeed in pursuing the matter back to the cradle "owing to the curvature of the earth and the limitations of the telescope.""
So in some ways The Third Policeman is just a framework for O'Brien to hang lots of silly ideas on, and as novels go it's not distinguished by a strong urge to discover what happens next. But the writing is intricate and beautifully judged throughout, making it the rarity of a comic novel which requires full brow-furrowed attention to read. At times it feels like the best book you have ever read and at times it can be a bit of a drag. Which, as I said earlier, makes it remarkable by any standards. Whether it will help you solve the mysteries of a certain TV serial, I don't know ... as far as that goes, I'm Lost.
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on 17 February 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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on 2 December 2003
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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on 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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VINE VOICEon 31 December 2013
I found a lot of The Third Policeman esoteric,high falutin nonsense,subject to footnotes and theories of one De Selby,a philosopher and scientist,of whom the nameless narrator is an acolyte.Murder is an intimate theme, surrealistic conversation and conceptions of reality that lead the characters,John Divney,narrator,Joe,Old Mathers,the three policemen,Martin Finnucane,a right merry dance.Science is married to insanity in a pedantic, pedagogical exercise that destroys the laws of physics,theknown laws of the universe,creating altered states of reality,the soul and the afterlife,marrying Dosteyevsky and Alice in Wonderland. We are talking about hell and bicycles like you've never seen them before.In a strange way it is akin to treating the whole of reality and human life on earth as if it is subject to scientific theories or as treating the spiritual life as an experimental phenomenon to be tried and tested or repeated endlessly to prove an ultimate hypothesis.I suspect there was a reason that Brian O'Nolan didn't publish it in his lifetime(although he couldn't get itpublished):his fine Catholic conscience. Using a mangle of time with light at one end and sound at the other,the screams of Divney,the black box,omnium("is the essential inherent interior essence which is hidden inside the root of the kernel of everything"),can we wonder why? Was it the civil servant more civil than the devil?

I grew exasperated and impatient with its never-ending soliloquies of nonsense and its fine non sequitors,what policemen did with bicycles or carved boxes,whether a man is alive or dead or resurrected for the sake of the story.There were moments of comedy like when bicycles become like people or people become like bicycles, but it was overall not funny.Yet it was a marvellous work of imaginative fantasy.The characters didn't come alive for me,they were too much alchemical conceptions in the mind of their author.The murder is over too soon and the perpetrator revealed at the story's start.The narrator's guilt provides his only reality,the story immersed in a conception of hell which is at times macabre,frightening and grim.We are reading a novel of the dead,fixed and immovable,not celebrating characters who were ever alive.Flan O'Brien is like Banquo's ghost haunting the modernists Joyce and Beckett with his post-modernist musings.The bits that moved me most were when O'Brien is writing about nature,the landscape,the elements,the light in a way that recalled Knut Hamsun at his peak,showing what an accomplished,beautiful writer he was.
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