Wednesday, January 30, 2008

New Year's Resolution: 24 novels in one year: book 4

I'm one sixth of the way there, and I got there on a bicycle. Unfortunately some of my molecules permanently merged with the bicycle's and vice versa.

This and other dilemmas are topics of The Third Policeman by Flann O'Brien.

I hate to be a lemming or a sheeple or whatever, but like many readers of this book I read it because the producers of the TV series Lost told me to. And boy am I glad they did.

A nameless narrator who has devoted his life to the study of an eccentric philosopher named de Selby dreams of one day publishing the definitive guide to the master's works. To raise money for this grand publication, he allows his roommate to talk him into murdering the local miser. But when our protagonist goes to retrieve the rich man's loot his reality suddenly shifts into a jolly nightmare world populated by nightmarishly jolly policemen who care only for bicycles.

The Third Policeman is an amazing novel which, like its time and space defying setting, manages to be multiple things at once: it is absurdist while being brutally realistic, surreal while being plain and coherent, ridiculously funny while being scary. O'Brien himself emerges as a gestalt of Irish authors from Swift, to Joyce, to Beckett while being nothing like any of them.

The Third Policeman has been quietly leaving the mark on the literary landscape for fifty years. I'm glad to see it finally getting the recognition it deserves. Sadly, it wasn't published in O'Brien's lifetime. After being rejected by publishers both in Ireland and America he pretended the manuscript had been lost, confiding in only one friend that he couldn't stand to tell people he had been rejected by publishers on two continents. Now that it's making its mark, I'd say it has a broad appeal. If you enjoy mindfucks like Lost and Mark Danieliewski's House of Leaves that openly draw inspiration from it, you'll enjoy The Third Policeman. If you enjoy Monty Python and Terry Gilliam, you'll enjoy The Third Policeman. So get out there and start enjoying already!

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