Thursday, January 29, 2009

Third Policeman by Flann O’Brien (13/81)

Category: 1001 Books to Read Before You Die

This is a very bizarre book and one which I imagine will divide readers. It begins innocuously enough with a description of the narrator’s life following the death of his parents, and how he came to commit a murder. But this isn’t a straightforward tale of wrong-doings and things quickly become stranger. The rest of the book involves greed, guilt, eternity and bicycles!

Absurd is the best way to describe the book, with the situations and dialogue taking surreal turns. Sometimes there is comedy in the absurdity, other times it is nightmarish, or just plain infuriating for the reader.

Running alongside the actual “plot” (such as it is), is this book’s defining feature, its use of footnotes. The narrator has undertaken a project to collect together all the writings on a philosopher/scientist called de Selby and his thoughts (often quite tenuously) turn to the works of de Selby, so extensive footnotes are provided to explain the ideas of the man, and his numerous critics. Of course, de Selby is an entirely fictional character, but the author has created a whole body of work for him and his commentators. Although it was difficult to know how to read at the same time as the main novel, I enjoyed this part most because of the contrast between the ridiculousness of his theories and the serious academic tone of criticism.

This book was very different from anything else I’ve ever read. I would recommend it to others just on that basis, but make guarantee that anyone will like or even understand it.

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