Years before the Beatles came into view,, a grand Irishman named Flann O’Brien (O’Nolan, in other contexts) gave us a magical mystery tour of his own. The Third Policeman is a tale told us by an unnamed, hapless dupe, (a “heel” according to the author’s account of his writing). He is joined by a platoon of sturdy,incomprehensible policemen who become the genial, bizarre mentors on his journey to a day of reckoning. A wonder of this wonderful book is that we share with our louse of a narrator his wistful longing as he looks at the crystal blue sky, watches the trees breathe and the birds sing–out the window of his jail cell, as his gallows are being hammered into shape.
I remember the first time I laughed out loud while reading, nearly 40 years ago. It was the riotous “The Onion Eaters”, by J.P. Donleavy that vigorously tickled me to such a point, with his tales of testicle-pulling contests, enormous and delicious breakfasts (with those “rashers of bacon”), scoundrels and wistful love, all gathered into a grand shambles of a leaky mansion in a fantastical Ireland of a magical time.
The Third Policeman is not the slap-stick performance of The Onion Eaters, but both books share the root of an enormous fund of humor. The warm and quirky charm of O’Brien, and his perfectly startling, fresh way of describing things, will bring me back to read some more. Here is a Slate article on O’Brien that I enjoyed and will, hopefully, be a little sign-post to point the way to more. i’m going to look forward to At Swim-Two Birds, and The Dalkey Archive.