Dan Sandman

47: The Third Policeman by Flann O’ Brien

In Books, Comedy, Fiction on 22/11/2013 at 12:00 pm

The Third Policeman by Flann O' BrienI was handed this well worn book by a dear friend and have enjoyed it very much. As I have turned its two-hundred or so pages, I have been delighted, surprised and amused by the uncustomary imagination of Flann O’ Brien. If you are looking for something completely different to inspire your mind, something truly unique to work your intelligence, then this is the book for you.

This surreal and funny novel was originally written in 1940 but – due to a rejection by the English publisher Longman’s – not published until 1967. The Third Policeman was written by the Irish writer Brian O’ Nolan who used the non de plume Flann O’ Brien. It takes place in rural Ireland and is narrated in the first person. Its plot, its characters and its semantic choice are absurd in a satirically brilliant way.

The unnamed narrator is obsessed with the unconventional thoughts and unorthodox works of de Selby, regularly referencing de Selby in footnote form to hilarious effect. As the story unwinds, the world within which the narrator finds himself starts to become progressively more strange. Through post-modern thinking, where ideas are meshed together against form or cliche, O’ Brien is able to construct a parallel universe of strange occurrences. In this fictional landscape, the normal rules that govern us – gravity, time, rationality – do not necessarily apply. This playful approach leaves the reader with an enjoyable sense of dislocation from reality. An imaginative space between the words on the page – symbols and signs – and the images implanted upon our consciousness.

However, by creating a dreamlike world where supposed staples of truth – such as science and philosophy – are undermined, O’ Brien asks the reader to explore the unconscious and subconscious mind. In turn, encouraged by the entertainingly good humour of the novel, the reader is free to question the very nature of existence and the validity of academic thought to explain the explainable. As well as being a very funny book, this is a very philosophical book.

It is possible to pick up The Third Policeman at any page and to discover a gem of a sentence. This book is a truly original piece art and bravely defies convention across all twelve chapters. Nonetheless, it is not made of complete nonsense and this is a credit to the writer. For example, it is chronological (putting aside the irrational perceptions of time) and focuses on a central protagonist who faces a number of trials. I think that Brian O’ Nolan created Flann O’ Brien to free himself from his own learning and experience. Letting go of his identity enabled O’ Nolan to be daring and show great ingenuity. This is a strikingly original novel orchestrated by a well educated man and experienced writer.

Highly entertaining.


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