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The Third Policeman

4.03 of 5 stars 4.03  ·  rating details  ·  8,074 ratings  ·  891 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.
Aug 17, 2010 Paul rated it 2 of 5 stars
Shelves: novels
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.



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....more
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,...more
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
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...more
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...more
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
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
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...more
‘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
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.

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...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...more
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...more
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
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
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...more
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...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...more
It didn't work for me. Every once in a while I'd find something good or funny. De Selby was definitely one of the best things about this book. But a lot of it read like a sillier/less good version of Beckett. I think it's important not to be self-satisfied with your humor, and reading this book, I felt like O'Brien thought he was being so funny, when in fact he's just pulling out whatever is the next weirdest thing that can happen and sticking it in his story. A lot of the humor seemed way too o...more
César Lasso
Este libro original y onírico fue a parar a mis manos durante una estancia de tres semanas en Londres, en noviembre de 1990. Recuerdo que estaba yo tristón y solitario y su lectura surrealista me vino como anillo al dedo. Quedé sorprendido y me arrancó alguna carcajada.

Recomiendo la reseña de Camille Stein, que lo ha leído recientemente.
Sentimental Surrealist
Oh, so this is what the Trial would read like if Kafka wrote it on six or seven tabs of acid.
Pronoun, Cog, Surnoun

“It was not one of the colours a man carries inside his head…”

“It is true that de Selby is rather vague as to how precisely this new direction is to be found.”

Flann O’Brien’s The Third Policeman is not a book. It must be read from inside its inside pages. When you are inside its inside pages you will see it is not a book but the new direction and the new color proposed on the outside of its inside pages as if the pages, which are doorways to inside and outside, could wind-wa...more
Nov 17, 2008 Núria rated it 2 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: los que tengan paciencia suficiente para aguantar pesadillas surrealistas
Recommended to Núria by: Donald Barthelme
En el primer capítulo de la segunda temporada de 'Lost', cuando por fin abren la escotilla y entran en el búnquer, el libro que está leyendo en este momento Desmond es 'El tercer policía' de Flann O'Brien. No me acordaba yo de este detalle. Puede que no me fijara y, si me fijé, seguro que me pensé que se trataba de una novela de detectives al uso (no tiene nada que ver con detectives y algunos de los creadores de 'Lost' han reconocido la influencia de esta novela en la trama de la serie). No vol...more
Bro_Pair أعرف
This, Flann O'Brien's "great lost novel," is commonly billed as a comic masterpiece. While the book is often funny, particularly so when depicting semi-human bicycles and horses, this billing seems misleading to me. This is a horror story, and a chilling one at that.

O'Brien privately spoke highly of the plot, and it is easy to see why - he certainly seems to be having fun, obscuring then revealing, building and retreating, irresistibly building to a brutal ending (it's a good one). There's littl...more
This is one of the strangest novels I have ever read. It was written in about 1940, but not published until 1967, a year or two after the author`s death. O`Brien is a pseudonym for the Irish writer Brian O`Nolan, who was also a celebrated newspaper columnist using the name Myles na gCopaleen, the latter name apparently Gaelic. O`Brien`s other masterpiece is At Swim-Two-Birds, which was published in 1939. His "Myles" columns is also well-regarded, and such novels as The Poor Mouth and The Hard Li...more
Really this book deserves 4.5 stars.

From Wikipedia:

Flann O'Brien is rightly considered a major figure in twentieth century Irish literature. The British writer Anthony Burgess was moved to say of him: "If we don't cherish the work of Flann O'Brien we are stupid fools who don't deserve to have great men. Flann O'Brien is a very great man." Burgess included At Swim-Two-Birds on his list of 99 Great Novels.

The full Wikipedia entry is here

"The Third Police...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.
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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
More about Flann O'Brien...
At Swim-Two-Birds The Poor Mouth: A Bad Story about the Hard Life The 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.” 66 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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