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The Third Policeman (Complete Classics)

By Flann O'Brien (Author)
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Item description for The Third Policeman (Complete Classics) by Flann O'Brien...

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 its relation to bicycles, the existence of eternity (which turns out to be just down the road), and de Selby's view that the earth is not round but "sausage-shaped." With the help of his newly found soul named "Joe," he grapples with the riddles and contradictions that three eccentric policeman present to him.

The last of O'Brien's novels to be published, The Third Policeman joins O'Brien's other fiction (At Swim-Two-Birds, The Poor Mouth, The Hard Life, The Best of Myles, and The Dalkey Archive) to ensure his place, along with James Joyce and Samuel Beckett, as one of Ireland's great comic geniuses.

With the publication of The Third Policeman, Dalkey Archive Press now has all of O'Brien's fiction back in print.

A comic trip through hell in Ireland, as told by a murderer, The Third Policeman is another inspired bit of confusing and comic lunacy from the warped imagination and lovably demented pen of Flann O'Brien, author of At Swim-Two-Birds. There's even a small chance you'll figure out what's going on if you read the publisher's note that appears on the last page.

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Item Specifications...

Format: Audiobook
Studio: Naxos of America
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 5.67" Width: 4.72" Height: 1.02"
Weight:   0.53 lbs.
Binding  CD
Release Date   Mar 30, 2007
Publisher   Naxos of America
ISBN  9626344555  
ISBN13  9789626344552  

Availability  0 units.

More About Flann O'Brien

Register your artisan biography and upload your photo! Flann O'Brien, whose real name was Brian O'Nolan, also wrote under the pen name of Myles na Gopaleen. He was born in 1911 in County Tyrone. A resident of Dublin, he graduated from University College after a brilliant career as a student (editing a magazine called Blather) and joined the Civil Service, in which he eventually attained a senior position. He wrote throughout his life, which ended in Dublin on April 1, 1966. His other novels include The Dalkey Archive, The Third Policeman, The Hard Life, and The Poor Mouth, all available from Dalkey Archive Press. Also available are three volumes of his newspaper columns: The Best of Myles, Further Cuttings from Cruiskeen Lawn, and At War.

Flann O'Brien was born in 1911 and died in 1966.

Flann O'Brien has published or released items in the following series...
  1. Irish Literature
  2. John F. Byrne Irish Literature Series

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Product Categories

1Books > Audio CDs > Literature & Fiction > Classics
2Books > Audio CDs > Literature & Fiction > General
3Books > Audio CDs > Literature & Fiction > Unabridged
4Books > Special Features > New & Used Textbooks
5Books > Subjects > Literature & Fiction > Classics
6Books > Subjects > Literature & Fiction > General > Classics
7Books > Subjects > Literature & Fiction > General > Contemporary
8Books > Subjects > Literature & Fiction > General

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Reviews - What do customers think about The Third Policeman (Complete Classics)?

Too Weird for My Taste  Jun 26, 2008
Too bizare for my taste and way out of my literary league. However, if you want a taste of what hell could be like, go for it.
An Astounding Pancake  Jun 14, 2008
It is unfortunate that Flann O'Brien isn't assigned reading, and that one is generally forced to discover him for oneself. The Third Policeman is one of the funniest books I've read. Unlike "At Swim-Two-Birds," O'Brien's other classic, it's plotted more or less linearly. The plot is fantastically involved, and is -- uniquely in modernist writing -- one of the best things about the book.

A very skeletal plot summary: the narrator (one-legged and nameless) inherits a pub, but having no interest in running it he leaves its management to the thieving John Divney. Divney persuades the narrator that the pub is losing money so it would be a good idea to kill the local miser and steal all his money, so they kill him. When they go to recover the money, the narrator is blown up by a mine and enters an alternate universe dominated by policemen who are obsessed with bicycles, Russian dolls, and eternity. Happening to be available when a criminal is required, the narrator gets sentenced to death, but wheedles a trip to eternity out of the policemen before he is to be hanged. While there he collects immense quantities of gold, but can't bring them back to earth because of a technicality. He escapes at the last minute because an army of one-legged men, who have come to rescue him, distract the policemen long enough for him to slink away on a highly-sexed she-bicycle. He returns to his village to find John Divney fat and middle-aged, but the sight of him scares John Divney to death and they return together to the police station.

There is a lot of humor, mostly deadpan and dark; the policemen's world is a beautifully conceived noneuclidean pastoral, and the running gags are hilarious -- the "atomic theory of the bicycle" (if you spend too long on a bicycle you become more than 50% bicycle and start leaning on walls; your bicycle, on the other hand, becomes more than 50% human and starts misbehaving with women) and de Selby's theories about night being due to air pollution are the funniest of the many recurring gags in the book. The writing is beautiful too, though somewhat more restrained than "At Swim-Two-Birds"; the style is a stripped-down version of Joyce, about halfway between "Ulysses" and Beckett's "Watt." The policemen's dialect (e.g. the many uses of the word pancake) is a spectacularly successful innovation.

In short, this book is a must-read. Read it.
Modern, more adult Alice in Wonderland  Mar 17, 2008
I read this as part of my Lost reading challenge. The main character--a one-legged scholar obsessed with illogical philosopher de Selby--participates in a robbery and murder with his roommate. While looking for the hidden loot, he is suddenly transported into an adult Alice in Wonderful of corrupted logic (something that he finds terrifying despite his love of the messed up philosopher), and must deal with three bizarre policeman obsessed with bicycles. It is a bizarre view of death and hell, as a never-ending torturous cycle of oddities. Grade: B+
This Way To Eternity  Mar 5, 2008
After listening to an version of The Third Policeman by Flann O'Brien, I'm delighted to have finally experienced it. There has been resurgence in the novel's popularity triggered by the quirky TV drama Lost. Based on that obscure product placement, in a show that seems to take itself very seriously, I had no clue how hilarious this "postmodern" novel would turn out to be. Flann O'Brien (real name, Brian O'Nolan), being a contemporary of James Joyce, reveals, perhaps, just from where so much of so-called "black comedy" originates. Absurdity abounds in this cautionary tale, a lovable absurdity, like an "F Troop" of one-legged men attempting to liberate a fellow amputee from the gallows. It is of course infinitely more readable than Joyce's enigmatic tale of a wake and I'm sure much more laugh-out-loud funny; at least inasmuch as Finnegan's Wake is purported, by those who pretend to understand it, to be.

In this story, the narrator - among other things, a scholar of a brilliantly scatterbrained scientist, deSelby (whose skewed theories are portrayed in the novel's ample subtext of footnotes) - is enticed by a neighbor to commit the grim murder of a certain miserly farmer. Then, as if that's not enough, he must retrieve the bundle of wealth the miser had hoarded from under the floorboards of his house. In so doing he awakens into a nether world where he has lost his watch, and by association, his name; but has found his soul whom he soon dubs Joe.

Jim Norton does a superlative brogue-inflected reading, and so much of the humor is tied to the rhythm of Irish argot. Often the characters engage in question and answer sessions where one will ask about a certain unknown object and his interlocutor will reply by asking a series of twenty questions-like inquiries. This technique of "cataloguing" is used chiefly is post-modern literature, perhaps as a parody of the modernist quest for meaning. Nonetheless it all translates into one knee-slappingly funny story.

O'Brien utilizes his love of Irish language and people to color his landscapes. The peculiarities of many characters serve only to enliven the strangeness of their situations: freshly murdered men are suddenly alive again, the fronts and backs of houses merge into a two-dimensional reality; men, over time, take on the atoms of their bicycles and vice versa. And in the imperfect logic of law enforcement, those with no name could not have been born - do not exist - and therefore cannot be accused of thievery or murder. Perhaps in tribute to Joycean circumlocution, O'Brien - as one of his characters describes the fabrication of a set of trunks, each one just smaller than, and nested within, the last - does a bit of literary nesting of his own as the passage, almost seamlessly, wraps around within itself.

As we see throughout the novel, proportion plays a key role, to the protagonist's journey through his own sort of personal inferno. He moves easily through a window, for instance, which looks much too small for him; the policemen he encounters are morbidly obese grotesques, out of proportion with their surroundings; and the third policeman of the title lives within the walls of his neighbor's house, lurking on the fringe. Dimensions are way out of whack, even weight is unreliable. As he perambulates through this alternate territory, the narrator comes to realize that nothing can be trusted to work normally; that conventional science is `fubar', yet surprisingly more in alignment with the theories of his mentor, the eccentric deSelby.

Lewis Carroll would probably be considered one of the first popular benefactors of fantasy, nonsensical seeming worlds with nonsensical speaking characters. Other notable creators of bizzaro reality have been Jonathan Swift, GK Chesterton and CS Lewis. But this book is denser than mere fantasy or nonsense; I would compare it more easily with the metaphysical work of Franz Kafka or the existentialism of Samuel Beckett . There is a heft to it for all of its lightness.

Ironically enough, O'Brien was not able to publish this work in his lifetime. The rejection of this his second book, following the great success of At Swim-Two-Birds, which was lauded by Joyce, proved a crushing blow. Yet he continued to hone his craft, as evidenced through his Irish Times column, Cruiskeen Lawn written under the pseudonym, Miles na gCopaleen. He also wrote an entire book, An Beal Bocht (transl. The Poor Mouth) in Gaelic. Flann O'Brien died in Dublin in 1966, probably due to complications from alcoholism, let's hope he's not obliquely wandering the distorted countryside of his greatest novel, still unable to pin down that elusive third policeman.
Kafka meets Monty Python in this guided tour of hell.  Jan 31, 2008
Though not as well known as Joyce, Yeats, Wilde, Shaw, or Beckett, Flann O' Brien is a major figure in Irish literature. "The Third Policeman" is a good introduction to his work - if you enjoy it, try "At Swim Two Birds" and "The Poor Mouth" as well.

Take a murderer, a bicycle, a highly idiosyncratic Irish police station, then imagine how Kafka and Monty Python might use these elements as ingredients in a Groundhog Day plot, and you get perhaps the funniest depiction of Hell in all of literature. You'll certainly never read anything quite like this book again.

Prepare to laugh until it hurts. This is a very funny book.

4.5 stars and a strong recommendation.

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