Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “The Third Policeman” as Want to Read:
The Third Policeman
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

The Third Policeman

4.03  ·  Rating Details ·  11,452 Ratings  ·  1,210 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)
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about The Third Policeman, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about The Third Policeman

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  Rating Details
Aug 08, 2016 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
Cait Poytress
According to the "Atomic Theory", I am 80% couch.
Paul Bryant
Aug 17, 2010 Paul Bryant rated it it was ok
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.

Ian "Marvin" Graye
"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
Dec 18, 2012 Geoff rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: infinite-books
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
Dec 16, 2015 Darwin8u rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: aere-perennius, 2015
"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


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
Camille Stein
Sep 29, 2016 Camille Stein rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

The Last Laugh - Joseph O'Neil -

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 perspectiva en su cabeza,
Feb 16, 2013 Christopher rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Christopher by: Cait Poytress
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,
Aug 11, 2016 Tony added it
Recommended to Tony by: Fionnuala
Shelves: irish, second-try
Did you ever mount a bicycle from the right?

. . . is a question posed in this novel. And I have to confess, thinking about that, that I never have. But I am a small sample size and, I must confess, not a rider of bicycles. Then again, I am a frequent user of an elliptical machine, and I have only mounted that from the left. I have fallen off it both left and right but that is a different matter.

I tried this book a long time ago and I didn't make it to the question of bicycle-mounting. But that w
K.D. Absolutely
Sep 06, 2010 K.D. Absolutely rated it really liked it  ·  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
Jun 23, 2011 Steve rated it liked it
‘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
Jul 02, 2015 Matt rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Aug 14, 2007 Jacob rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Sentimental Surrealist
Oh, so this is what the Trial would read like if Kafka wrote it on six or seven tabs of acid.
Jun 21, 2015 Cheryl rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Cheryl by: Cait Poytress
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
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
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
Jim Elkins
May 10, 2016 Jim Elkins rated it it was amazing
Shelves: irish
What Does A Genuinely Avant-Garde Novel Look Like?

Everyone has a theory about this novel. There are at least five commonly cited explanations:

1. Flann O'Brien is the forgotten postmodernist, the one who didn't leave Ireland. The "Third Policeman" is one of the last books Joyce read, and by implication it's is a kind of Doppelgaenger to "Finnegans Wake." The book's play with language and its reflexivity about the novel form is somehow parallel to Joyce's.

2. O'Brien was an alcoholic, and this book

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
Nate D
It would be easy to dismiss bits of this as sheer exercise in absurdism, which O'Brien's stature as a comic writer might tend to suggest. But there's also his relation to Joyce in Irish literature, the feeling that O'Brien writes science fiction with the imagination of a more erudite Philip K. Dick, the Locus Solus-like wonder and bafflement, and an almost Lovecraftian sense of the obscurely ominous. Really it's this incredible terror or the infinite and unknowable (which actually has a perfect ...more
Aug 16, 2015 Nostalgebraist rated it really liked it
Shelves: pomo-fiction
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
Jan 06, 2012 Sean rated it did not like it
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
Dec 15, 2012 Erik rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Jan 10, 2016 Teresa rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: e5, n-irlanda
"O inferno anda em círculos. É circular na sua forma e interminável, repetitivo e praticamente insuportável na sua natureza."
Flann O'Brien

Bicicletas. Há pessoas tão dedicadas ao seu transporte que se tornam metade, ou mais de metade, bicicleta. É muito fácil detectá-los: se alguém está de pé, com um cotovelo encostado numa parede e um pé apoiado no passeio, estamos perante um "homocicleta"...
De Selby. Um cientista com teorias extravagantes sobre a Natureza: a Terra é em forma de salsicha; a noi
Mar 12, 2008 tim rated it liked it
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
Sep 12, 2016 Matthew rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: novels-novellas
Anyone who has read and enjoyed The Third Policeman will be devastated to learn of its initial rejection, and that after its rejection the author claimed the manuscript was "lost", and that it would have remained "lost" had it not been discovered after the author's death and published posthumously.

I, for one, was devastated... devastated, but not surprised - given the novel's outlandish story, belonging somewhere on the border between the Surreal and Absurd.

Indeed, The Third Policeman was writt
Oct 23, 2007 Jenna rated it it was amazing
Shelves: irish-literature
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
Mar 03, 2009 Paul rated it really liked it
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
Nov 24, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »
  • The Lime Twig
  • The Survivors of the Chancellor (Extraordinary Voyages, #13)
  • The Oranging of America and Other Stories
  • Watt
  • Nog
  • Bad Twin
  • Man in the Holocene
  • After All These Years
  • Lancelot
  • Borstal Boy
  • Gogol's Wife and Other Stories
  • I Would Have Saved Them If I Could
  • The Butcher Boy
  • Ray
  • Fiction and the Figures of Life
  • The Coalwood Way: A Memoir  (Coalwood, #2)
  • The Stone Leopard
  • Jakob von Gunten
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...

Share This Book

“Your talk," I said, "is surely the handiwork of wisdom because not one word of it do I understand.” 94 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.”
More quotes…