There are books that exist to confuse and bemuse and I find it a treat whenever I encounter just such a book. The Third Policeman by Flann O’Brien was not at all what I had expected and I mean that in a good way…I think.
The first thing – if you read the synopsis for this novel, which I did, it leaves you with a sense that you are about to read this very Irish mystery novel. I was ready for murder, policemen, witnesses, false confessions, I mean basically anything that would be tied to a typical police mystery type story. What this book instead gives is a hyper surrealism romp through the inner thoughts of one man who may or may not be experiencing reality or if he is, he’s the only one that finds it weird, but definitely not weird enough to question it.
This book is enjoyable. You stay with the MC throughout the entirety of his story, which starts a little slow but gradually picks up. While the beginning tends to drag a bit, once the pace is picked up and the stakes become – less normal – you can easily find yourself sprinting to the finish wanting to just understand what the heck is happening to the MC and why doesn’t he ask more questions as to what is going on!?
More than anything O’Brien takes you on a philosophical trek that is sprinkled with characters that have their own views on the matter. As the reader, you get to delight in hearing each view as the MC and then sit in puzzled confusion as you try to understand just what these policemen are talking about. Oh yes, I failed to mention that these characters are specifically the aforementioned three policemen that the title alludes to.
As you read you encounter the dizzying work of a man obsessed with building smaller and smaller boxes that all fit inside one another until you need a magnifying glass to see the very last one. You also witness the bizarre and oddly sexualized tension between a man and his bicycle as they both escape the prison in which the three policemen are keeping them.
This is a novel filled with divinely dark comedy that will make you laugh and scratch your head at the same time. Basically, this book has the power to leave you, dear reader, with some conflicting emotions. I honestly finished this book not knowing whether I should just smirk, shrug my shoulders, and call it a day or if I should sit and think about what exactly I had just ingested into my brain.
I guess I will end in saying that this book may not be for everyone and so I can’t say that I would recommend it for – everyone. However, there are some great story beats that I will admit that I enjoyed. And there are lessons one can take away if one lives their life a certain way. No Judgement!
The ending can be a bit surprising if you haven’t been paying attention to the journey the MC has been on, but even still there were things that I found a bit shocking for lack of a better word. This book doesn’t set out to be scary, but I have to say that if I were to designate a genre just on the ending of this book alone, it would definitely have to be horror. It really doesn’t matter from what perspective you watch the ending unfold in, either way, it is a downright surrealistic nightmare.
I would say that I enjoyed this, with my favorite bit certainly being the horror-filled ending.