The Third Policeman by Flann O’Brien


(Read 22 April- 17 May)

This is a wonderfully bizarre novel which takes place in rural Ireland.  The narrator whose name we never learn is an obsessed student of the Philosopher De Selby.  The narrator’s parents die when he is young and he leaves the business of his family to his friend Divney.  After a number of years the narrator finally has a book written on De Selby’s works but has no money to publish it.  His friend Divney mentions that an old man who lives nearby has riches in a black box and that if they kill him they can take all of the money.  After killing the old man one night with Divney, using a spade, the narrator notices that Divney has run off with all the money.  Despite questioning Divney for months, he refuses to tell the narrator where the money is.  Eventually after three years Divney reveals the box is under the old man’s floorboards in his house.  When the narrator goes to retrieve the box he finds that the old man is alive and has a long conversation with him.  This kicks off a wacky set of events whereby the narrator goes to a police station and gets sentenced to death and spends a number of days with them.

This book was equally challenging and strange at the same time.  The narrator’s dealings with the policemen in the station are funny and bewildering and provide some hilarious conversations and dialogues.  The book is deliberately written in strange language and O’Brien has an excellent understanding of language (even though the novel was originally written in his native Irish).  The style the book is written in deliberately weird and difficult and makes it a hard novel to follow.  Thus, as the reader I regularly felt lost and clueless much like the narrator of the novel.

The novel isn’t long and each chapter is relatively short which allows the reader to drop in and out without much difficulty.  I would recommend this novel to readers not because of its story but more to witness what an excellent author can do with words.  In a way the language is similar to Joyce and O’Brien shows how much can be achieved through wordplay.