"The Third Policeman" by Flann O'Brien long summary


"The Third Policeman" is a darkly comedic novel written by Flann O'Brien. The story revolves around an unnamed narrator, a delusional scholar and bicycle enthusiast, who becomes entangled in a surreal and absurd world.

The novel begins with the narrator, who is obsessed with a fictional scientist named de Selby, stealing a man named Mathers' money to fund his own scholarly pursuits. The stolen money is hidden in a box, buried under the floorboards of the narrator's home. He plans to use the funds to publish a book that explores de Selby's bizarre theories.

The narrator finds himself in a strange village where he encounters two policemen who exhibit peculiar behavior. The policemen, Sergeant Pluck and Policeman MacCruiskeen, constantly talk in riddles and engage in nonsensical conversations. The narrator soon discovers that the policemen are obsessed with bicycles, and they share a bizarre theory about the transmigration of souls.

The village itself is an eerie place, with strange happenings and odd characters. The narrator discovers a secret organization called "The Atomic Theory Police," which is dedicated to preventing the existence of bicycles and thus maintaining the balance of the universe. The policemen believe that bicycles have a mystical connection to the afterlife and that excessive use of bicycles can lead to the fusion of the human soul with the bicycle itself.

As the story progresses, the narrator becomes increasingly unhinged and delusional. He spends his time interacting with bizarre characters, including a deformed philosopher named Divney, who believes he has a wooden leg, and a mysterious man named Joe, who introduces the concept of "omnium," a substance that can be extracted from the soul of a bicycle.

Throughout the novel, the boundaries between reality and fantasy blur. The narrator's obsession with de Selby's theories, combined with his encounters with the eccentric villagers, leads to a series of bizarre and often hilarious situations. Time itself becomes distorted, with the narrator experiencing strange phenomena, such as being stuck in a loop where he repeatedly meets the same characters and relives certain events.

In the climactic final chapters, the narrator finally confronts the bizarre truth of his own existence. It is revealed that he has, in fact, died and that his soul has been fused with his bicycle. The stolen money, buried under the floorboards, represents his final chance at redemption and escape from the surreal purgatory he finds himself in.

"The Third Policeman" is a complex and multi-layered novel that explores themes of identity, existence, and the blurred line between the real and the imagined. O'Brien's unique blend of dark humor, philosophical musings, and absurdity creates a surreal and thought-provoking reading experience.

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