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The Third Policeman

4.03 of 5 stars 4.03  ·  rating details  ·  9,577 ratings  ·  1,012 reviews
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 i ...more
Paperback, 200 pages
Published March 1st 1999 by Dalkey Archive Press (first published 1967)
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Community Reviews

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According to the "Atomic Theory", I am 80% couch.
Paul Bryant
If you ever want to find out what it's like being the only sober person in a room full of professors telling each other jokes in Latin and heffing and hawing and pulling each others' beards, here's a good place to start.

Otherwise not.

Aug 11, 2015 Fionnuala added it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: All bicycles everywhere
This review has been removed by the Conformity Police
According to our legal advisers, the review matches the forbidden category of ‘non-review’ in all relevant aspects and has therefore been placed in review detention. The definition of a 'non-review' is one that is not in conformity, i. e. departs from the accepted form in some legal or moral manner.
For a guide to conformity, see Footnote 1.

'Non-reviews' interfere with their books in what we consider to be highly suspect ways. They lift their
Ian Agadada-Davida
"It Might be the Supreme Pancake"

Flann O’Brien finished this novel in 1940, but it wasn’t published until 1967, the year after he died of cancer.

It must have broken his heart that it was initially rejected for publication. It’s arguable that it was finally released at a far more appreciative time. However, this is little comfort if you're dead, and what we readers have missed out on is the type of fiction he would have written had it been accepted.

Flann O’Brien ranks with great wordsmiths and hu


Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results.
-Rita Mae Brown
The phrase practically screams common sense, does it not? And yet endurance, perseverance, and stubborn tenacity are all valued qualities in the face of a seemingly unobtainable goal. Personally, what immediately comes to mind are the trials and tribulations of scientists in countless laboratories scattered across the globe
The Third Policeman is a fantastic work of imaginative fictional wonder that by the end somehow manages to become a bit exasperating in all its fantastic imaginative wonderfulness. Each chapter by itself is a kind of magical and mind-bending set piece illustrating baffling physical and metaphysical conundrums, paradoxes, absurdities, and improbabilities, but this is perhaps a situation where the pieces are greater than the whole (a standout example is MacCruiskeen’s ever-diminutive reproductions ...more
It was as if the daylight had changed with unnatural suddenness, as if the temperature of the evening had altered greatly in an instant or as if the air had become twice as rare or twice as dense as it had been in the winking of an eye; perhaps all of these and other things happened together for all my senses were bewildered all at once and could give me no explanation.

Flann O'Brien's The Third Policeman continuously defied my expectations. Before reading, I had no preconceived notions about it,
"Joe had been explaining things in the meantime. He said it was again the beginning of the unfinished, the re-discovery of the familiar, the re-experience of the already suffered, the fresh-forgetting of the unremembered. Hell goes round and round. In shape it is circular and by nature it is interminable, repetitive and very nearly unbearable." - O'Brien (omitted from the published novel)


Hell is other people's bicycles.

After finishing Flann O'Brien's dark masterpiece of absurdity, I wanted to ja
Before I begin, let me warn you.
***DO NOT READ THE INTRODUCTION UNTIL AFTER YOU HAVE READ THE NOVEL** I made the mistake of reading the intro first, and that intro contains a spoiler. It gave away the entire premise of the novel. So I feel like I was gyped a bit here.

That being said, even tho I read the novel knowing the outcome, it didnt ruin the story for me at all.

TTP is hung up on de Selby (who is this dude?) some of his theories. Here are a few that really interested me: He felt that roa
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Camille Stein

« The Third Policeman » illustrations > James Kenny -

No sabía cuál era mi nombre, no recordaba quién era. No estaba seguro de dónde venía ni qué era lo que tenía que hacer en esa habitación.

—El color de una persona —respondió lentamente— es el color del viento que prevalece en el instante de su nacimiento.

—¿La vida? Muchos hombres se han pasado cien años tratando de determinar sus dimensiones, y cuando por fin uno ha llegado a comprender algo y ha abrigado cierta perspec
It's hotter than hell here and my thoughts are circling down the drain. Before they finally disappear leaving only a few scattered bits of dried out reasoning and some crumbs of logic, let me tell you this about the book:

It has a murder in it, right at the beginning, and you'll know who did it right away, so it's a murder-non-mystery.

It has policemen in it — at least three, otherwise the book's title wouldn't make much sense, would it? — and the policemen are basically pursuing the theft of bicy
K.D. Absolutely
Sep 06, 2010 K.D. Absolutely rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to K.D. by: 501 Must Read Books; 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die (2006-2010)
Shelves: 1001-core, 501, fantasy
An extended adult version of Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Surreal yet endearing characters. Sharp witty dialogues. Entirely different worlds. The only difference between the two novels is that the world here (rural Ireland) is dark and at times creepy unlike the bright and colorful world of Alice.

Do you remember the structure of an atom?
An atom is composed of a nucleus with the positively charged protons and the electronically neutral neutrons. Around the nucleus are the neg
Bizarrely good. An aura of strangeness tinged the first few pages, and then it intensified, and then there was a surreal tumble down the rabbit hole into a very curious world. A place where "...the trees were active where they stood." You need to "use your internal imagination".
Descriptions and events and expounded philosophies sort of made a weak and tenuous sense. The edge of sense. Until you realise it was making no sense at all and you were lost again. But then another promising thread of l
‘Tis an odd little book, this one, with elements of the supernatural mixed with wry observations and assorted bits of absurdity. It was written by Irishman Brian O’Nolan under the pen name Flann O’Brien back in 1940, but wasn’t published until after his death in 1967. Since I’ve never read anything like it, I don’t quite know how to compare it. If pressed, though, I’d say it’s like James Joyce for the lilt, Camus for the angst, and Lewis Carroll for the false logic. The most enjoyable parts for ...more
Sentimental Surrealist
Oh, so this is what the Trial would read like if Kafka wrote it on six or seven tabs of acid.

50 pages in thus far, read it on the flight back from Ireland.

Amazing so far, real unique and mindbending and subtly lyrical. ASTB was as grand as all that, this is supposed to be (possibly) even better. Here's hoping the brilliant start keeps up...


Now I'm at pg.87 (significant for a barely over 200 page tome) and it's still sneakily, uniquely, obliquely brilliant.

Cool kids know that Flann O'Brien is one of the finest underrated (Irish) writers of the 20th Century and that At Swim-Two-Bir
I really wanted to like this book. I didn't like this book.

Things I did like:

* The writing. O'Brien was a wordsmith. In the abstract, all of his sentences please, and some astound.

* Bicycle sex. I'm not positive, but I'm pretty sure that the narrator got it on with a bicycle. The bicycle was the aggressor.

* IEDs! This is before there were IEDs, mind you.

Things I didn't like:

* How horrible the book was.

* How long it took me to work my way through the book.

* The number of times I wished I was read
Después de acabar de leer ‘El Tercer Policía’, sólo puedo decir que se trata de una absoluta obra maestra. El viaje al que te arrastra Flann O’Brien es de los más imaginativos, alucinantes e irreales que he leído jamás. ¡Hilarante, delirante, sorprendente! Aún no entiendo cómo no había leído nada de este escritor irlandés. Estas mismas sensaciones de estar leyendo una historia que te sorprende en cada página, es comparable a la que tuve hace años con la lectura de otra magnífica fábula metafísic ...more
On the internet, there's a certain sense of humor, coupled with a certain writing style and a certain aesthetic, that most commonly goes by the name "lolrandom." As in "LOL, random!" A classic example is this memetic block of text:

hi every1 im new!!!!!!! holds up spork my name is katy but u can call me t3h PeNgU1N oF d00m!!!!!!!! lol…as u can see im very random!!!! thats why i came here, 2 meet random ppl like me _… im 13 years old (im mature 4 my age tho!!) i like 2 watch invader zim w/ my girl
Biciclogica dell'aldilà

“Mi resi conto che questa bicicletta mi piaceva più di quanto mi fosse mai piaciuta ogni altra bicicletta, più ancora di quanto mi fossero piaciute certe persone a due gambe”.

Una delle principali qualità del lavoro di Flann O'Brien è che le sue visioni letterarie mettono in crisi le categorie del senso comune nel rivalutare una forma inedita di intelligenza, strettamente connessa con la creatività e l'immaginazione. Il romanzo di questo oscuro stregone gaelico contiene una
MJ Nicholls
Note: This review was written on September 9th 2007. I was young and extremely ill-read, so indulgence is required.

A Footnote to Genius

In the presence of literary giants, it can be impossible to hold one’s own. Often this is because most of them are long gone, and few would have the time for piffling fools such as me anyway, brandishing their flaccid members and asking for a furtive chug. Forgive the vulgar start. See, a few months back I locked myself in a room with The Third Policeman and crum
Flann O’Brien asks something exceedingly personal of his readers when they encounter his work The Third Policeman, and many may not be wholly up to the challenge. For this book, a wild romp through some of the most interesting and most terrifying aspects of the human mind, O’Brien asks for his readers to throw down what they know as common sense, and to allow what might otherwise be considered the irrational to become at least plausible as he liberally breaks conventions of modernist literature. ...more
I am not ashamed to say that I came to this book because it made a cameo on Lost.

Okay, couldn't keep a straight face. I am, sort of.

This book has two gears: tedium and suspense. Tedium of the circumlocutory-conversations-with-crazy-people variety (already read Swift and C.S. Lewis, thanks) and suspense of the crazy-people-about-to-kill-you-for-no-reason variety. I would have liked it better if it had laid off the slavishly boring footnotes referencing a made-up philosopher. I get it. It's parody
Mar 03, 2009 Paul rated it 4 of 5 stars
Shelves: 2009
The wackiness here is pure gold. I love a book that terrifies me on multiple levels, and I can certainly say that this book succeeded in that regard. Not to mention it is hilarious (particularly the footnotes on de Selby! Gold! Pure Gold! Don't skip them!)

I know that the conceit of this book may seem cheap, tired, cliche by this point in time, but that's not really important. This book has much more in it than plot alone. The sheer magnitude it took to create de Selby was a task of Borgesian pro
One of the funniest books I have ever read, but also one of the most profoundly unsettling. This is a story told by a robber/murderer who ends up at a police station and discusses such vital issues as the location of eternity, the earth's sausage shape, houses full of strawberry jam, and bicycles (of the utmost importance). The narrator's utter confusion becomes our own, leading to some of the most hilarious dialogue ever put to paper — though by the end of the book you might just be laughing to ...more
Fantastic, hilarious, and more than a little unnerving: a metaphysical nightmare adorned with loopy, comic flights of fancy. Fans of Lewis Carroll, Samuel Beckett and/or Monty Python (and maybe even Borges) should especially enjoy this. Highly recommended to those who prefer their humor strange and deranged, with a large serving of the surreal and a dash of the macabre.
Nick Craske
Alice in PoMo Land... A glorious and delightful trek through story strata; through peculiar and shambolic days and nights across an alternative plane... Existentialism has never be so riotously inventive. A spectacular multifaceted and rare gem from 1967.
I was devastated to learn that The Third Policeman was initially rejected by publishers, that after its rejection the author claimed the manuscript was "lost", and it would have remained lost had it not been published posthumously. I was devastated, but not surprised. Given the novel's outlandish story, belonging somewhere on the boarder between the Surreal and Absurd. Indeed, the novel was written after the Surrealist movement of the 1920s and before the publication of Camus's Myth of Sysiphus ...more
Interesting read? Mostly. Equally frustrating and slow? Indeed. Through most of this book I kept thinking: would I rather be reading something more... um, well something more? It does finish strong and overall was worth reading. However, I'm not sure it exceeds in any one department, be it humor, surrealism, imagery, or cynical footnotes of academia. I found it creative, but not altogether satisfying.

This quote from the book sums it up fairly well: "The distance we walked in this country I do n
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Pseudonym of Brian Ó Nualláin, also known as Brian O'Nolan.

His English novels appeared under the name of Flann O’Brien, while his great Irish novel and his newspaper column (which appeared from 1940 to 1966) were signed Myles na gCopaleen or Myles na Gopaleen – the second being a phonetic rendering of the first. One of twelve brothers and sisters, he was born in 1911 in Strabane, County Tyrone, in
More about Flann O'Brien...
At Swim-Two-Birds Poor Mouth: A Bad Story about the Hard Life Dalkey Archive The Best of Myles The Hard Life

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“Your talk," I said, "is surely the handiwork of wisdom because not one word of it do I understand.” 76 likes
“You mean that because I have no name I cannot die and that you cannot be held answerable for death even if you kill me?"

"That is about the size of it," said the Sergeant.

I felt so sad and so entirely disappointed that tears came into my eyes and a lump of incommunicable poignancy swelled tragically in my throat. I began to feel intensely every fragment of my equal humanity. The life that was bubbling at the end of my fingers was real and nearly painful in intensity and so was the beauty of my warm face and the loose humanity of my limbs and the racy health of my red rich blood. To leave it all without good reason and to smash the little empire into small fragments was a thing too pitiful even to refuse to think about.”
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