The Third Policeman

October 7, 2015

Dear Reader,

There are few things so funny as the existential dread of finding oneself in a strange land unable to recall one’s name, waiting for three insane policemen to build the scaffold on which they will hang you for a crime you couldn’t have committed. That is only a bit of the strange and dark hilarity of The Third Policeman by Flann O’Brien.The Third Policeman- TPIATHow does one go about explaining what this book is about? Logically, I could say that a man commits a murder and then, after encountering the ghost of the man he murdered, goes to a police station in order to get some answers. While there he meets two extraordinary policemen whose theorems about the world around them drive him madder and madder. The third policeman remains one of the main mysteries at the heart of the story, something the title initiates and the book remains mysterious on for much of its length.The Third Policeman- TPIATBut there is nothing logical about this book, although there is a lot of fantastical confabulation. The main character, who does not know his own name by the time he reaches the police station, is obsessed by a philosopher named De Selby, who is even more ridiculous than the actual characters you will meet. Footnotes about his attempts to dilute water, for instance, sometimes run over and through many pages. The Third Policeman- TPIATAnd then there are the bicycles. The whole text is riddled throughout with one of the policeman’s theories regarding bicycles. He believes that people’s atoms become intermixed with the atoms of their bicycles when they bounce on rocky roads while riding. Thus, if you are a frequent cyclist, you become part bicycle and your bicycle become part you. In order to prevent this, the policemen frequently steal at-risk bicycles and hide them. The Third Policeman- TPIATAnd if that all doesn’t sound hilarious, then believe me it is absolutely side-splittingly hilarious. It is a fairly quick read, although I felt the need to take a break every once and a while because it is just so trippy that sometimes you need to come up for air. It is also brilliant, which I perhaps haven’t emphasized enough. O’Brien has a way with words, to put it mildly. So put this one in the bicycle of your basket, cycle up to the Arnold Arboretum, grab some coffee at 7 Pond, and enjoy.

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