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The Third Policeman

really liked it 4.00  ·  Rating details ·  16,847 ratings  ·  1,828 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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Martin Evans Yes. Definitely. This book I will take to my Desert Island along with a few discs. Book first, play second if you must.
Alas, the synopsis on this webs…more
Yes. Definitely. This book I will take to my Desert Island along with a few discs. Book first, play second if you must.
Alas, the synopsis on this website is something of a spoiler.(less)

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really liked it Average rating 4.00  · 
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 ·  16,847 ratings  ·  1,828 reviews

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Jun 18, 2015 added it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: All bicycle riders 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. ...more
Paul Bryant
Sep 30, 2007 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.

Ahmad Sharabiani
The Third Policeman, Flann O'Brien

The Third Policeman is a novel by Irish writer Brian O'Nolan, writing under the pseudonym Flann O'Brien. It was written between 1939 and 1940, but after it initially failed to find a publisher, the author withdrew the manuscript from circulation and claimed he had lost it. The book remained unpublished at the time of his death in 1966. It was published by MacGibbon & Kee in 1967.

The Third Policeman is set in rural Ireland and is narrated by a dedicated amateur s
Aug 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: irish
The Irish Existentialist

So, if Alice had fallen down the rabbit hole in Ireland rather than in England, the result could well be The Third Policemen. Or, more aptly, if Shem and Shaun had set out on the road West instead of East down the River Liffey, it could be the alternative Finnegans Wake. But on the third hand, it seems more likely that O’Brien is engaged in a massive send-up of Everything Irish, from its grammar to its destiny.

O’Brien’s protagonist, who has no name for most of the book, i
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
Nov 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 1001-list
Absurdity done right.
Dec 20, 2013 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
Dec 18, 2012 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
Jim Elkins
Oct 09, 2012 added it
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. The book is an indirect but eloquent re


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 glo
Feb 01, 2013 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,
Sentimental Surrealist
Oh, so this is what the Trial would read like if Kafka wrote it on six or seven tabs of acid.
Mar 03, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction, lost-lit
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
Aug 09, 2016 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
Jun 23, 2011 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
Nov 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Inspired, hilarious lunacy with a savage edge, and absolutely and unmistakably unique.

‘The first beginnings of wisdom,’ he said, ‘is to ask questions but never to answer any. You get wisdom from asking and I from not answering. Would you believe that there is a great increase in crime in this locality? Last year we had sixty-nine cases of no lights and four stolen. This year we have eighty-two cases of no lights, thirteen cases of riding on the footpath and four stolen. There was one case of wan
K.D. Absolutely
Jan 16, 2010 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
Oct 15, 2013 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 12, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Vit Babenco
Apr 19, 2013 rated it it was amazing
“Strange enlightenments are vouchsafed to those who seek the higher places.”
Same comes to those who read books like The Third Policeman
I guess there is something in common between this novel and Alice's Adventures in Wonderland – to say least they both boast the same high degree of art paranoia. And both disconnect time and space from the quotidian reality.
Wheels within wheels and hallucinations within hallucinations – such is the way of existence.

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
Katia N
Aug 12, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Using the words from the novel it "is unbearable breathless yellow day" here. It is too hot for me to write a proper review. And, I think it is the one of those novels that should be read at least twice. I could only say for now that I would not be able to look at a bicycle for a while without thinking that it might be alive:-) I would like the book even more if I would not have read Pedro Páramo or would not be familiar the Russian absurdist tradition from Gogol to Kharms and even Bulgakov. Ped ...more
Jul 11, 2012 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
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
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.
Matthew Mousseau
Jul 09, 2014 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, falling somewhere on the border between the Surreal and Absurd.

Indeed, The Third Policeman was written
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
Dec 23, 2011 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
Charlie Miller
Jun 09, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: novel
The craic runs strong with this one. At times I was exhausted by the relentless absurd whimsicality, until I embraced the fact that all there is is relentless absurd whimsicality, and in doing so it started becoming quite a bit profound. I did keep checking my pockets to see if I'd been pilfered by a hidden hand while being told a tall tale- relentlessly tall. Flawless prose, really enjoyable and creative prose more importantly. And in general just a real last hurrah for imagination and style ...more
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Guardian Newspape...: Third Policeman, The - August 2020 16 20 Oct 13, 2020 09:49AM  
Reading 1001: The Third Policeman 4 20 Jan 07, 2019 10:38AM  
#GallowglasArmy H...: Chapter One 1 10 Feb 12, 2017 10:32AM  
Goodreads Ireland: Spoiler Thread: The Third Policeman 25 68 Apr 02, 2014 09:41AM  
Goodreads Ireland: February-April Quarterly Irish Read 2014: The Third Policeman 47 54 Apr 01, 2014 05:36PM  

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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, Count

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