Monday, March 21, 2011

Guttersnipe Reviews: Flann O'Brien

Flann O’Brien

The Third Policeman

Plann O’Brien couldn’t publish this book and so he gave up, told his friends the manuscript was lost, and drank. After his death The Third Policeman was finally published – and found to be strange and hilarious. Above all, the book is a work of non-stop madcap invention, with seldom fewer than three perfectly crazy theories to a page. As a visit to a bicycle-obsessed Hell does not provide sufficient scope for O’Brien’s ingenuity, he introduces a mad philosopher, de Selby, who devotes himself to useful activies such as diluting water.

I hope Flann O’Brien devotees will excuse me for saying this book could be introduced as “Alice in Wonderland – in Hell”, a book which tests how far nonsense can go – extraordinarily far, it turns out – to eternity in an elevator.

This is not the first time I’ve wished I had a time machine, so that I could go back in time and say, “Sir, the book you’ve written is brilliant. Please don’t give up. But, please, sir, drink less!” (In Dublin I met a Flann O’Brien scholar at the Writers’ Museum who told me, when I said I wanted to go to all the places associated with the great man, “Aw, you couldn’t possibly! You’d die of alcohol poisoning!”)

Readers new to Flann O’Brien should start with his masterpiece “At Swim, Two Birds”, but this book, too long neglected, should follow immediately after.

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