“What a bizarre story! Yet somehow compelling. Very difficult to know what to make of it as you read it, but very funny in places. What is it about the Irish? Are they completely barmy. I did get lost in some of the de Selby endnotes (skipped some of it) but somehow it all made some sort of sense...”see full review » see other reviews »
“What a bizarre story! Yet somehow compelling. Very difficult to know what to make of it as you read it, but very funny in places. What is it about the Irish? Are they completely barmy. I did get lost in some of the de Selby endnotes (skipped some of it) but somehow it all made some sort of sense at the end. Thanks to the Book Club for putting us on to it.”Heather B wrote this review Sunday, September 15, 2013. ( reply | permalink ) Was this review helpful? Yes | No
“Hard to review and difficult to rate.
Interesting "wild" ride ... inventive and funny in places.
Have a feeling I'm missing some nuances”
“great ending, really interesting book. ”ben wrote this review Friday, June 7, 2013. ( reply | permalink ) Was this review helpful? Yes | No
“I enjoy a challenge. Boy did I get one.”Larry Leonard wrote this review Thursday, May 16, 2013. ( reply | permalink ) Was this review helpful? Yes | No
“Funny. Very, very funny. More in an odd....very, very odd way. But not without a few laughs. Definitely interesting....might cause you to never view bicycles in quite the same manner again..”Klapka wrote this review Wednesday, May 8, 2013. ( reply | permalink ) Was this review helpful? Yes | No
“So glad that I don't read the introductions, even on books published in the 1960's. I actually didn't know the major plot twist so I really enjoyed, thought my brain was often strained by, the seemingly nonsensical journey the narrator was traveling. I'll never look at a well ridden bicycle the same way again.”Blue Cypress Books wrote this review Tuesday, January 22, 2013. ( reply | permalink ) Was this review helpful? Yes | No
“Brilliant stuff - but much too bonkers for me to describe adequately.”Colin Lusk wrote this review Tuesday, January 22, 2013. ( reply | permalink ) Was this review helpful? Yes | No
“Posthumously published novel by the largely forgotten contemporary of Beckett and Joyce. A surreal satire involving murder, spirituality, and deep ruminations on the human condition, with echoes of Kafka, Edward Lear, Crime and Punishment, and most later 20th century absurdist fiction. The book's anxious refrain, "Is it about a bicycle?" is answerable, as follows: Yes. It's about everything we'll never comprehend in this lifetime. And it's about a bicycle.”Mitchell Shannon wrote this review Monday, January 21, 2013. ( reply | permalink ) Was this review helpful? Yes | No
“ The Third Policeman by Flann O’ Brien is possibly the most bizarre novel I have ever read. The reason I chose this book in the first place is actually because of its absurdity, with its opening sentence being, “Not everybody knows how I killed old Phillip Mathers, smashing his jaw in with my spade…” As a result, I expected it to be a mystery thriller sort of book; however, I was wrong. The Third Policeman is a dark comedy that contains the concept of magical realism . It is hard to catch the jokes as the story has a lot of dry humor in it, but once getting them, the ironies contained in them are quite amusing. Nonetheless, the whole story itself does not give off such a comic atmosphere, if not the opposite. It is basically about a nameless young man who supports a murder for his need for money in order to publish his book about de Selby, who is a scientist and a philosopher he is fanatical about. While searching for the money, kept inside a mysterious box, he goes through a long journey involving strange encounters with peculiar people. The dreamy effect of the adventure is very pleasant and enjoyable. It feels as if I am walking through his dream, where nothing makes sense but that is considered perfectly fine. It is exciting to turn the pages, as I can never foresee what is going to happen next.
The Third Policeman takes place in rural Ireland, where the protagonist takes a journey in search of a box filled with cash. I am not quite sure how to describe the narrator’s character, since not even his name was mentioned throughout the whole novel. It is riveting how although his identity and appearance are not directly explained, his personality is so defined that I can almost visualize him in my head. Through the indirect descriptions in the novel, the protagonist can be depicted as intelligent, funny, absurd, and even a bit hypocritical, adding on the disturbing mood throughout the story. After being orphaned at a young age, he is luckily accepted into a boarding school where he discovers de Selby’s work. He is rapidly engrossed with de Selby’s ideas, later calling himself a dedicated scholar of de Selby . After graduating, he returns back to his hometown, where a man named John Divney is in charge of managing his family business. Divney, an uneducated but a clever man, succeeds in convincing the protagonist to help him kill Old Mathers, but when the protagonist goes back to Old Mathers’ house to find the box, “something happened,” and he is knocked down unconscious. Old Mathers, who is supposed to be dead, is there when he wakes up, and they have the most surreal conversation. He instructs the protagonist to go to the barracks and meet the policemen to acquire the box of cash. The protagonist does follow his instructions, and has a rather strange encounter with the policemen, who are obsessed with bicycles. The protagonist tries to ask for help, but instead, the policemen just disturb him with their madness about a special bicycle painted in an unknown color. When he returns home, Divney is the only one who can see him and collapses from a heart attack, as he thought the protagonist died from the bomb he put inside the box instead of money. When the protagonist goes back to the police barracks, the story ends abruptly with a repeated question from the Sergeant: “Is it about a bicycle?”
One of the aspects I find amusing about the protagonist is that he is a highly sincere man with a serious tone, but also funny and sarcastic at the same time. I believe that it is not his personality that is humorous, but it is the fact that he is so serious yet carefree at the same time that is amusing. For instance, he returns back to the farm to carry on with his business, but he lets John Divney take over and basically control everything. He cares about the profit and ownership about the farm, yet he just sits there reading de Selby’s works while Divney buys worthless properties and bars. In a sense, he is a hypocrite because he is the one who complains about the waste of intelligence and unintelligent decisions, yet he is the one who lets them happen.
Another odd quality of the protagonist is how he is fairly well educated and intelligent, but seems to lack moral and common sense: Things that seem to be obvious do not appear so obvious to him. For example, when Divney convinces him to kill, he is persuaded even though he is aware of Divney’s corrupt nature, and when Divney suggests him to go grab the box filled his cash, he does not suspect a thing. On one hand, he might have just trusted his old friend, but it seems rather stupid of him to be so obedient of such foul propositions.
It hit me later that The Third Policeman is a complex version of Alice in Wonderland. There are a multitude of elements that can be compared between the two novels. One element is the usage of magical realism, where it is difficult to differentiate reality from fantasy. As it is hard to tell if the protagonist from The Third Policeman is in a coma after the explosion, imagining everything, it is impossible to know if Alice’s trip is all just her dream. The next similarity is the odd characters that are hard to relate to. The encounter with Old Mathers and the policemen can be compared to Alice’s meetings with the Cat and the Queen of Hearts. Old Mathers and the Cat are the characters that seem to appear consistently throughout the stories, guiding the protagonists through the journeys, whereas the policemen and the Queen of Hearts are political figures that present conflicts to the characters. Another little detail that caught my attention is the protagonist’s obsession over a certain person or an object. The protagonist of The Third Policeman is obsessed about de Selby and the box filled with cash, while Alice is obsessed about the rabbit and the cake that makes her shrink. Their obsessions are the driving forces of their adventures, nudging them to proceed. Lastly, both books have endings that circle around back to the start with no conclusion whatsoever. The Third Policeman ends in a recurring question of a bicycle without any information about whether the protagonist is actually dead or not, whereas Alice in Wonderland ends with Alice waking up, not sure of whether her journey to Wonderland was just a dream or not.
To be honest, I am still confused about this book and will probably have to read it again. The complicated concept of magical realism makes it a challenging read, as I cannot really relate to any of the characters or events nor catch up with the fast flowing plot. However, it is an enthralling novel that is certainly worth the challenge. I highly recommend this book to people who enjoy dry humor with unpredictable absurd plot lines, but I warn people who love riding their bicycles before they read this book: I feel like I would never ride a bicycle again!”