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Editorial Reviews

Why we think it's Essential: Jim Norton turns this wild post-modern romp into an accessible absurdist story that sounds as though it has been narrated by a studio full of talent. This modern classic can often make little sense when read, but Norton never misses a beat. While the story ranges from life to afterlife and everywhere in between, Norton keeps us grounded, entertained, and totally engrossed. You might've missed it in lit class, but don't let it roll by now. —Chris Doheny

Publisher's Summary

Flann O'Brien's most popular and surrealistic novel concerns an imaginary, hellish village police force and a local murder.

Weird, satirical, and very funny, its popularity has suddenly increased with the mention of the novel in the TV series Lost.

© and (P)2007 Naxos Rights International

Critic Reviews

"His writing is invariably compared to those other Irish greats, Joyce and Beckett, but for me he is infinitely more accessible and much funnier." (Sue Arnold, The Guardian, UK)
"If ever a book was brought to life by a reading, it is this presentation of O'Brien's posthumously published classic. Norton individually crafts voices and personalities for each character in such a way that a listener might imagine an entire cast of voice talent working overtime....[He] ties the ribbon on a perfect presentation of this absurd and chilling masterpiece." (Publishers Weekly)

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

Overall

  • 3.6 out of 5.0
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  • Overall

Narrator extradinaire

This is a very funny story but the narrator makes it great. It is surreal so one must suspend logic to enjoy it.
The skill and talent of Jim Norton is unbelievable. I would like to know if he is Irish or not. He has the accent down pat. His ability to interpret the various characters, and there are many weird and wonderful, is fantastic.

9 of 9 people found this review helpful

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  • Darwin8u
  • Mesa, AZ, United States
  • 03-01-15

Hell is other people's bicycles.

"Joe had been explaining things in the meantime. He said it was again the beginning of the unfinished, the re-discovery of the familiar, the re-experience of the already suffered, the fresh-forgetting of the unremembered. Hell goes round and round. In shape it is circular and by nature it is interminable, repetitive and very nearly unbearable."

- O'Brien (omitted from the published novel)

After finishing Flann O'Brien's dark masterpiece of absurdity, I wanted to jam a well-chewed copy of Joyce in one pocket, a copy of Sterne in the other, push a DFW in my back left pocket, put some dark strawberry jam in my back right pocket, turn left twice, exit into my tight little garage and immediately make sweet sweet love to the nearest bicycle available. No. Not yet. She's not ready, nor is my review. I'll pick up this peach tomorrow.

So, it isn't tomorrow, but time and peaches are relative in purgatory. This is one of those books that is nearly impossible to review, but there is a space beyond impossible where letting go of this book exists. So, let's press forward shall we? The prose is amazing, funky; it floats and bursts from the page. Like Joyce and other Irish writers, O'Brien OWNs the English language (it is merely mortgaged to us mortals). Reading O'Brien is like watching one of those strange kids who can keep a soccer ball from ever hitting the ground. Gravity just doesn't matter. But let's bounce back to bikes and literature >

So, Flann O'Brien's novel seems to exist in a strange purgatory between Sterne's 'The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman' and DFW's 'The Broom of the System'. It is full of digressions, wooden legs, bicycles, murder, policemen (obviously), footnotes*, and much much more. This is one of those novels where rules are murdered and post-modernism is both born and twisted. There are books that are written to be sold and novels written to be worshiped. Get on your knees fellow travelers and start praying.

Norton's narration is brilliant. Seriously, BRILLIANT.

*O'Brien was out DFWing DFW before DFW was born.

28 of 32 people found this review helpful

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A Murderer Adrift in a Dantean Irish Wonderland

The narrator of Flann O'Brien's The Third Policeman (1940/1967) begins his story, "Not everybody knows how I killed old Phillip Mathers, smashing his jaw in with my spade." The first chapter then relates how the narrator was abandoned and orphaned as a boy, educated at a good boarding school where he fell in love with the work of the physicist/philosopher/psychologist de Selby, graduated and lost his leg and gained a wooden one, came home to find John Divney running the family farm and pub, spent all his time and money on English, French, and German commentaries on his hero de Selby, and finally agreed to help Divney murder Mathers to get enough money to publish a "definitive" annotated de Selby index. For three years after the murder the narrator never let Divney out of his sight for fear that his "friend" would abscond with their victim's money, until Divney has the narrator go to the old man's house to retrieve the black cash box hidden under the floorboards there.

But when the narrator reaches under the floorboards, he experiences an "ineffable" fugue, after which he finds that the cash box (which he saw a moment earlier) is actually absent, while Mathers is present and sentient. The narrator has forgotten his name (which he has never revealed) and now embarks on an absurd, disturbing, fantastic adventure, ostensibly to locate the cash box. Cries of amazement regularly escape his lips. He wonders if he "was dreaming or in the grip of some hallucination." Has he entered an Irish Wonderland, Heaven, or Hell? Are the bicycle-obsessed policemen there eccentrics, angels, or devils?

The surreal situations are coherent and logical in a way worthy of Lewis Carroll. Sergeant Pluck, for example, explains that, due to "the Atomic Theory," by which atoms are "as lively as twenty leprechauns doing a jig on top of a tombstone," people who ride bicycles exchange particles with them, leading to this man being 23% bicycle or that bicycle 78% man, and so on. Did you ever notice that bicycles often don't end up right where you left them? (Thus Pluck locks his bicycle in the solitary confinement cell.) Best not to ponder what happens when a man rides a woman's bicycle or vice versa! Then there is the creative second policeman MacCruiskeen who plays a musical instrument whose notes are so high they are inaudible and displays a series of inter-nested chests ending in ones so small they are invisible. As for the crazy, third policeman, Fox, out on patrol for 25 years, the less said the better.

Meanwhile, the beginnings of the 12 chapters of the novel teem with footnotes relating to the theories, experiments, and writings of the narrator's crackpot idol de Selby as they prefigure the coming action of the chapters with topics like water, sleep, time, direction, roads, names, houses, and mirrors. The footnotes also mediate between de Selby commentators, like the two trusted experts, Hatchjaw and Bassett, and the "shadowy" Kraus and the "egregious" du Garbandier, some of whom may be pseudonyms or imposters, all of whom disagree on nearly everything. Isn't academia is prey to rivalries, forgeries, and unworthy subjects of study!

This opposing mirror infinity is a motif in the novel: footnotes inside footnotes, scholars inside scholars, codices inside codices, chests inside chests, rooms inside rooms, bodies inside bodies. . . It is vertiginous.

The narrator is odd. He is both honest and unreliable. We believe what he says, but note much that he leaves unsaid (like just what happened to his leg). After saying early on that he committed his "greatest sin" for de Selby, the narrator seems free from remorse for helping to murder an old man. He is both gullible and canny about "friend" Divney, knowing that the freeloader has been robbing their customers and him but letting himself get talked into killing Mathers for money and then refusing to be separated from Divney until the money has been divided. The narrator is not as bad as Divney, yet he is self-centered, as in his materialistic wants in "Eternity" and his big plans for "his" omnium (the essential divine building block of everything).

All of the above is written by O'Brien with great humor humor, preventing things from getting too bleak, bizarre, or dry. The scenes where Pluck lists a series of names to see if one might be the narrator's, or a rescue company of one-legged men disguise their number, or the news that Hatchjaw was arrested in Europe for impersonating himself, or the explanation for how unerringly Pluck is able to locate a stolen bicycle, or Mathers' reason for saying no to every request, or the narrator's conversations with his soul ("Joe"), all these and many more are very funny.

Another saving grace of the nightmare is the frequently lyrical, pastoral beauty.
"Birds were audible in the secrecy of the bigger trees, changing branches and conversing not tumultuously. In a field by the road a donkey stood quietly, as if he were examining the morning, bit by bit, unhurryingly… as if he understood completely these unexplainable enjoyments of the world."

But O'Brien is also a master of the disturbing detail, as of the police barracks:
"I had never seen with my eyes ever in my life before anything so unnatural and appalling and my gaze faltered about the thing uncomprehendingly as if at least one of the customary dimensions was missing, leaving no meaning to the remainder."

Audiobook reader Jim Norton gives a marvelous reading of the novel. His Irish accent ranges from the slight and educated (the narrator) to the broad and working class (Sergeant Pluck). He's also an uncanny uptight pompous British scholar, a nasal dead old man, and an italics-voiced soul. He reads every word and pause with perfect intention and understanding.

If you'd like a richly written unique book with flavors of Waiting for Godot, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, the Divine Comedy, and the old Prisoner TV show, you should read The Third Policeman.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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  • Sparkly
  • SF, CA, United States
  • 03-22-16

Sort of about Bicycles and Policemen...and Death.

I chose this after a recommendation from list of bicycle themed novels. I was expecting an Irish Poirot, investigating murder in the countryside while pedaling about. Ha! The bicycle ended up being such a MacGuffin, the joke was on me. Instead, it is an entrancing and original story about fate and death. Events unfurl in a causative but illogical manner, as one would expect from a novel described in the synopsis as "surrealist" (though how did I miss that?!). I found the ending highly satisfying, like a fuzzy image coming into focus over a long, long take. I admit that I never would have picked this up if I weren't confused about it - but I am really glad I did. Kafka meets Joyce. Delightful.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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  • Robert
  • JACKSONVILLE, FL, United States
  • 02-18-09

Worth the Effort

It is hard to figure out where this book is going at times, however it has many comical parts and the narrator does a great job. It is written in the same style as Joseph Heller's Catch 22 and I would think that if you liked that book you would also like this one. The book might not make total sense until you finish it though.

9 of 11 people found this review helpful

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Now that was a fine pancake

On another continent, Flann O'Brien could masquerade as John Kennedy Toole. Delightful wit. I can recommend it without any reservation.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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A leap of imagination! Actually pleasurable.

Unusual humour which kept me listening on and off but could never discount it's originality which kept me listening even though I wasn't laughing! I genuinely liked this book . The narration was brilliantly done.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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I just didn't get it...

I am honest enough to say I didn't get this book and confident enough to admit that it was probably just me. I was able to follow the book, per say, meaning I knew what was going on, but the whole time I kept saying, "What?". I felt lost. Hey - that might have been the point though. The narrator was good - and really it was his soothing voice that kept me going. I kept waiting for something to happen. While tons did in fact happened, but they all left me thinking, "okay NOW it's going to make sense". That never happened. It is a well written book, but, well, just not my kind of book I suppose.

4 of 5 people found this review helpful

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  • Dennis
  • ST Louis, MO, USA
  • 08-16-08

Patience

Stick with it; this book is surprisingly good,funny very Irish

6 of 8 people found this review helpful

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interestin

niver heard a ting like it in all me life
it'sa good ting the author had a job in civil service or his siblings would a starved

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Nigel Nicholson
  • 03-10-14

Imaginative brilliance

Would you consider the audio edition of The Third Policeman to be better than the print version?

Jim Norton is the best reader of audiobooks bar none. His reading of Ulysses is a revelation - making the book readable to me for the first time, but this is also inspiring - and very very funny for O'Brien's tale is a wonderful demonstration of how to make a nonsensical and unfilmable plot into something tangible and compelling. It is a perfect demonstration of how the requirements of logic can appear to be suspended and yet still operating at a narrative level. Totally brilliant all round.

6 of 6 people found this review helpful

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  • James Sheldon Sr
  • 11-08-13

Terrific reading of a great book

Any additional comments?

This is one of the two or three best audiobooks I've yet heard (Julian Rhind-Tutt's Master and Margarita and Anthony Heald's Crime and Punishment both being worth a mention as well.) I'd actually recommend this above just reading the book straight, because Jim Norton's command southern Irish accents and total understanding of the text bring out the humour in a way no voice in your head is likely to. Someone should drag this man bodily back into the studio and MAKE him record At Swim-Two-Birds.<br/><br/>As for the book itself... well, it's possibly the weirdest book I know. Kind of Crime and Punishment meets Alice with a hint of Father Ted thrown into the mix. I think it's a (slightly flawed) masterpiece, others think it's a mess. But even if it doesn't hold together for you, it's probably still worth it just for some absolutely fabulous flights of the comic imagination.

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

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  • Anonymous User
  • 02-16-14

A tricky man with a tricky pipe!

What made the experience of listening to The Third Policeman the most enjoyable?

Wonderful language and beautifully pitched narration. Lovely use of odd descriptive terms

What did you like best about this story?

The use of language and the characters. Its not about the destination....its all about the journey

Have you listened to any of Jim Norton’s other performances? How does this one compare?

No

If you made a film of this book, what would be the tag line be?

Like the lovechild of Father Ted and The Guard on acid

Any additional comments?

Flann O'Brien wrote extensively in an Irish version of English. The odd grammar reflects elements of Irish sentence structure that helps imbue the language with extra absurdity. Its a shame that the influence of the Irish language will be superceded by the cocacolanistion of Ireland (and the UK) by the dominant American media culture

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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  • Paul Snook
  • 03-11-16

Get On Your Bike For A Ride Into The Surreal

An insane, comic allegory read by Father Ted's Bishop Brennan? What's not to like?

A beautifully crafted tale of the absurd that can only come from an Irish mind; lyrical, comical, and wonderfully visual.

A young man returns home to an unusual set of circumstances which seems to accept with disinterest and good grace as he is too engrossed in the study of the works of the fictional scientist/philosopher de Selby. Finally, when his crooked tenant declares that they are short on cash and suggests they rob & murder a local misery, our protagonist appears to willing go along with the scheme. Things take a strange turn when, eventually, the tenant agrees to divide up the stolen loot and lets our 'hero' fetch it from where it has been hidden. He then embarks upon a strange journey involving bicycle-obsessed policeman that inhabit buildings desperately short of dimensions. All the way through there are references and cross-references to scholars of the works of de Selby, and the intense and almost violent rivalries between them, which form a backdrop to the main story.

This book is almost a rite of passage for any fan of the comically absurd and Jim Norton is the ideal and logical choice. In fact, upon listening, one couldn't imagine anyone else reading it. Wonderful, wonderful stuff.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Sìle
  • 04-07-13

An Oddity

As has been mentioned on another review, this book is not the usual fayre and thus has been received by many with mixed feelings.



It's an odd read: strange happenings - a lot involving bicycles - in pursuit of ill gotten gains. Treachery abounds in a place populated by unusual souls. I kind of understood the main character's predicament and so there were no suprises in the ending for me.



This version is well narrated, though I may have had the occasional quibble with pronunciation. There are footnotes in this book (be warned!) mostly relating to the work of a fictional scientist and philosopher, de Selby, which interrupt the storyline and I'm not sure how these contribute to the plot - really - but Mr Norton deals with these deftly.



I'm not sure I could recommend this book; it certainly held my interest on long, boring commutes, but is that really a recommendation? I don't think I would intentionally sit down to read it; in fact, I've had a hard copy on my bookshelves for a few years now never having passed the first page. Still, the audio was pleasant, but it truly was an odd choice of material.



If you want something weird, odd, strange and befuddling, this is the audio book for you.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Neil
  • 12-29-07

On a Different Planet . . .

Many reviews have been written about this title elsewhere on the web, so there seems little point in going into granular detail of what it?s about here. Just visit them and I think you?ll get the general picture. As for my opinion of it ? to be honest I?m left in two minds. I started off loving it, then hated it and at the end couldn?t really decide whether I?d enjoyed it or not! Yes, without doubt it?s strange, immensely clever, original (almost a forerunner to Father Ted in some of the more comic elements - guessing a stranger?s name immediately springs to mind for those of you who are fans of the series) and contains some of the best writing I have ?listened to?. The narration is also first rate (yet another Father Ted connection here too).

However, it could just be me but parts of this simply bored the pants off of me. I normally get through a lengthy (12 hours) audio book in a week or two but this one took me over a month and its just under seven hours long! The reason - well there?s only so much otherworldly ?nonsense? you can listen to and not let your thoughts drift off. If you let that happen then you loose the plot of course (not that I?m sure that really matters at times in this case) and have to 'rewind' or take a break from it.

So ? should you get this? It?s difficult to say really. I think some will absolutely love it and others hate it. To be honest its complete rubbish but then again wonderful rubbish ? I?m not being very helpful here am I? Oh go on, if you want to try something different then give it a go and see how you feel at the end of it ? what?s a few quid eh? Now I know how it ends I may even have a re-listen to see how it all pieces together. How many audio books can you say that about? I think I must have liked it (probably)!

11 of 14 people found this review helpful

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  • Austin
  • 10-27-17

Top Notch Narration!

Jim Norton's narration accentuates the lunacy at the books heart, and adds to the fun. Even if you have read it previously, I would recommend you give the audio book version a go.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 10-20-17

Impossible to film!

Fantastic crime novel, brilliantly narrated, provoking the full intellect, impossible to film. 'Is it about a bicycle?'

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  • MR C K GRAHAM
  • 05-03-17

it was my second attempt to get through it.

the first attempt failed as i had no idea or patience to find out where the author was going with the story. however, this is one of those stories where, a spoiler actually helps move the story along for you. i wont give you are supplier, but trust me it does help.

P.s. narrator was top, top notch. 5 stars all the way.

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  • Si
  • 07-01-16

Fantastic

The very accomplished comedy aside, this is the only novel I've read that effectively communicates the apprehension and sense of foreboding encountered in nightmares. Hilarious and disturbing in equal measures, what a book.