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The Third Policeman by Flann O'Brien
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's review
Jul 10, 2012

it was amazing
bookshelves: eire, fictions-of-the-big-it, underrated-lost-classics
Read from July 10 to August 12, 2012

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-Birds is a bumptious, multifaceted, meta-masterpiece (by which I mean both deeply and indistinguishably metafictional and a masterpeice which likes to subvert its own masterful language at every turn, making it more punk rock than a stately, arch-Modernist string quartet).

One writer put it finely when he opined to the extent that (at least in terms of 20th Century Irish fiction, and let's face it, Ireland has a fine claim on some of the best that was thought and said amid the caterwaul 20th Century) as far as Catholic heirarchies go, Joyce is the father, Beckett is the son, and O'Brien is the holy ghost. That seems about right to me. Compared to the emblematically-maximalist Joyce and the ur-minimalist Beckett, O'Brien is the antic spirit amid the ruins of the textual world.

Instead of grounding his texts in style and linguistic virtuosity, a la the aforementioned (who, it's worth adding, were early and vocal supporters of his work) O'Brien shakes the ontological foundations of his world consistently and playfully, opening up new, rather unheard-of narrative spaces in the process.

His relationship to Joyce during his own time was ambivalent at best; alternately repectful, familiarly irreverent, and agog with annoyance and lazy oversaturation but I think he got a little too caught up in the unneccesary anxiety of influence to be rightfully greivous at being subsumed in Joyce's infinite labyrinth.

O'Brien is and was his own man, and this is an extremely good thing not only for his reputation but also for the standards of quality and innovation for 20th Century letters.

Joyce can be fairly said to have mastered the Modernism of his era, which is all to the good, but O'Brien not only anticipates but diagnoses and revels in the post-modernity to come. All that had been solidly made (and that's a capital-M, ifyoudon'tmind, artist: god of the creation, remember) or fashioned melts into air, and O'Brien (Brian O'Nolan to his mother and the civil service; "O'Brien" rivals Kierkegaard in terms of mastery of the nom de plume ) is the wind chime.

This much is true, as well: the EVEN COOLER kids know that The Third Policeman is even better than A-S-T-B. I'm not (overly) fond of literary one-upsmanship but I like to think I know a fine thing when I see it and this text is amazing. Consistently, wittily, deeply and darkly amazing.

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Quotes Matt Liked

Flann O'Brien
“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.”
Flann O'Brien, The Third Policeman

Reading Progress

07/19/2012 page 165
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Comments (showing 1-3 of 3) (3 new)

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message 1: by Dan's (new) - added it

Dan's Obsessions Wellnow , after surveying yr books, I kinda stumbled upon this one.. I think I'll add this to my Xmas readin list. Seems like there is a spark in it's pages. What do U think so far?

Matt fan-fucking-tastic. The Irish Borges.

message 3: by Agnieszka (new) - added it

Agnieszka Absolutely cool review ,Matt !Unfortunately I can’t write anything more educated on your review because I haven't read TTP yet. But it's on my radar.

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