The Third Policeman – #newworldnovel

In #newworldnovel, Features, HOME, LITERATURE by Beci Moss

#newworldnovel is a feature in which we get people to tell us which book they’d choose if they had to leave earth today and go to a brand new world empty of all our literature. Would they choose something to comfort themselves or would they choose something to help whatever may live or come to live in this new world?

The Third Policeman – Flann O’Brien

For some reason when asked which piece of literature I would take with me if I were stranded in an unfamiliar world I immediately went for a rather outlandish gut instinct which isn’t particularly one of my favourites nor one of ‘the greats’ nor anything associated with childhood – it’s The Third Policeman by Flann O’Brien. Flann O’Brien was one of two pseudonyms of the Irish author Brian O’Nolan, the other being ‘Myles na Gopaleen’ which I’ve always thought would be quite a good name for a cat. It’s an absurdist allegorical tale akin to Alice and Wonderland, where the nonsensical adventures have a darker undertone.

The Third Policeman is a murder thriller, a comic satire about an archetypal village police force, a surrealist exploration of eternity, and a tender, erotic love affair between a man and his bicycle. One of the reasons I’d like to have this book in particular with me in the desolate new world is that I’d like to read it time and time again. It’s got those delicious sort of sentences that you feel you need to savour as you go along, and so many weird and wonderful happenings that I feel it’s as close to inexhaustible as a novel can get.

So whilst I’m stranded in space for god knows how long, this book would be an ideal companion, not to mention it’s circular narrative would probably begin to suit my thwarted sense of time passing. The second reason I’ve chosen it is for the element of the absurd. I love nonsense writing because of the way the hilariously ridiculous and meaningless narrative ultimately highlights the ridiculous and meaningless nature of life. The author wrote of it: ‘When you are writing about the world of the dead – and the damned – where none of the rules and laws (not even the law of gravity) holds good, there is any amount of scope for back-chat and funny cracks.’ Again, the absence of narrative gravity seems ideally suited to another planet. Travelling there through outer space, floating around The Milky Way I daresay would not be the time for realism. Equally I feel the absurd combination of the funny and the dark would be a good nostalgic token of planet earth –the comedy would keep my spirits up and provide a chuckle or two, whilst the more somber reflections would give me material for a good ol’ existential pondering to pass the time.

Even if you’re not likely to be stranded in a new world any time soon, I’d recommend giving this weird and wonderful book a read.

Matilda Graham

Matilda is an English Literature Student at the University of Edinburgh. She’s also a Lou Reed, T S Eliot and tea obsessive. When she’s taking a break from being so cultured and high brow, she likes to indulge in a little Shakira and a little Tequila, preferably although not exclusively at the same time.

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