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The Third Policeman - Flann O'Brien

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Author: Flann O'Brien / Format: Paperback / Date of publication: 16 April 2007 / Genre: Modern & Contemporary Fiction / Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers / Title: The Third Policeman / ISBN 13: 9780007247172 / ISBN 10: 0007247172

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      17.07.2009 18:02
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      A unique read, but not for everyone.

      Is it about a bicycle?

      The television series Lost has been a huge influence on me. Not only has it made me more interested and aware of dramas with actual quality such as The Wire and Mad Men, but I also have found myself drawn to novels which helped inspire the writers of Lost in the initial stages of conceptualizing the larger mythology of what has become a highly complex series. One of these pieces of fiction is The Third Policeman, and is the weirdest yet one of the most strangely engrossing books I've read in awhile.

      The novel was written by Flann O'Brien (pen name of Irish author Brian O'Nolan). It was written in 1940 but published posthumously in 1967, to much critical acclaim. The book follows the strange journey the unnamed narrator takes in rural Ireland after partaking in robbery and murder. Our narrator tells us of his sad childhood as an orphan and explains his current situation, running a pub with a friend named John Divney. Mr Divney decides they need to kill a man named Mathers and steal his black box full of money. The narrator's initial intent was to use the proceeds of the crime to fund his aspirations to publish a commentary on the fictional philosopher De Selby's work. De Selby's crackpot theories consist of earth being shaped like a sausage and that the phenomenon of night is a form of industrial pollution, definitely food for thought. They do kill him, gruesomely, with shovels, as the narrator somewhat unwillingly delivers the final blows. Divney however refuses to give him any of the money, instead hiding it, only telling him where it is after a year has passed. The box is hidden in the floorboards of the murdered man's home. As our narrator goes into the house to get it, the book moves into its second act: and from appearing to be a simple dramatic novel, descends into madness and becomes an overtly complicated science-fiction tale which makes very little sense in retrospect.

      I'm not looking to ruin the plot and go into the twists, however I will say that story beats include policemen hanging bicycles (as in being executed), and one-legged bandits on the loose. Not to mention the narrator's soul being referred to as Joe as if a separate being from himself; metaphysical indeed. It's incredibly hard to pigeon hole this book in many ways, you increasingly ask yourself many times as the story progresses, what the hell is going on? Many plot points that seem incredibly relevant at the time are dropped without further explanation. Whether this is intentional is arguable, however when you get a firmer grasp of what the narrator is experiencing it begins to piece together a little better. Many questions still remain long after putting down the book however, an example of this are the footnotes that are littered throughout, these are supposed to be written by the narrator on the aforementioned philosopher DeSelby . It's enjoyable at the exact moment that you are reading, but once you finish, you have no idea what DeSelby was meant to represent and his overall purpose. I will say that DeSelby's beliefs almost mirror that of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard in its stupidity.

      So beneath all the bizarreness, is there an underlying message? I'm not convinced there is, I believe that this was a literary experiment of sorts that Brian O'Nolan undertook. There seems to be no set rules, only chaos. Irish Catholicism however is a definite theme, and the twist in the story could be seen as an obvious parody of sorts in their beliefs. Humorous moments are numerous, and the comedic moments hold strong throughout, bicycles often playing a strong part. Here's a brief example of some brilliant dialogue - "The high saddle was the father of the low handlebars. It crucifies the fork and gives you a blood rush in the head. It is very sore on the internal organs.' 'Which of the organs?' I inquired. 'Both of them,' said the sergeant." I highly recommend giving The Third Policeman a read, you'll almost surely be left wondering at points if the weirdness is worth it in order to persevere. But in the end it is most definitely worth a go, if not just to see how downright creative someone can be. So what is it all about then, I hear you ask? Bicycles surely?

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