Organizing your thoughts and articulating them in a concise and clever fashion is hard so here's me rambling on for a while!
First off, this took me...hold on...more than four months to read. 200 pages. Four months. Pathetic. Of course I wasn't reading it throughout the entire four months, I had sort of forgotten about it and procrastinated the acknowledgment of its existence. At one point it had fallen under my bed and I, being too lazy to retrieve it, had essentially decided that it'd be easier to get it a few months later than to bend down and get it then.
As far as the novel's actual quality goes it's quite good actually, it's just unfortunate it took me so long to finish it. I did, however, upon returning to reading it, start over from the beginning as I had begun to forget some of the finer details of the novel's first half and I ended up plowing through it in about three days, so don't get the impression that it's a hard book to get through or anything, it's mostly a very enjoyable read.
Probably the most interesting thing about this book, to me, is its use of footnotes. Footnotes are something seen more frequently in non-fiction but it's not uncommon for footnotes to be used in fiction. What The Third Policeman
does however is unlike how footnotes in fiction are usually non-fiction themselves and separate from the actual story, in this the footnotes, like the story, are also fictional and play a large part in the novel, indeed at times the text of the footnote takes up most of a chapter, going on for pages and pages at a time completely obscuring the story's actual text.
It's quite interesting and even experimental in its way, and while it's certainly an interesting idea I felt that it wasn't brought to its true potential. Though the footnotes play a part in the story they still feel largely detached and are not so much fictional as they are quasi-non-fictional. Perhaps some elaboration is needed.
The novel often talks about a fictional philosopher named de Selby, who was a completely insane man with ridiculous theories. The footnotes sort of tell you about this man throughout the book, and it is interesting in that while reading the book's real story you are also sort of reading the biography of the fictional man de Selby at the same time. It presents these made up philosophies in a non-fiction sort of way, there's even a de Selby quote in the beginning of the book cleverly paired next to a Shakespeare quote, immediately suggesting that de Selby is a real man of history. By the time you are through with the novel you will know all the (fictional) de Selby scholars and all the (fictional) controversy surrounding him.
The footnotes are successful in that regard but there are a few problems. The footnotes are mostly boring. They are written in a much different style than the story is; the story is outright surreal humor, whereas the footnotes are humorous in context but are written in a very dull and tedious way, not unlike actual footnotes. Also, the footnotes are detached from the story in that they are completely irrelevant. They effect nothing nor do they provide any worthwhile insight to the story's events. They're just...there. All they do is tell us about this man de Selby and his preposterous theories and experiments, but it presents it in such a boring way that not only interrupts the actual story but also provides nothing of much value in the process.
The footnotes, again though an interesting idea, are completely novelty because the same thing they achieved (looking into the life and philosophies of the fictional de Selby) could have been achieved in the actual text and in fact sometimes is
achieved in the actual text! The actual text occasionally talks about de Selby in the same way the footnotes do so I must wonder why were the footnotes necessary? For no reason other than their novelty being as they failed to live up to the possible potential and failed to play an actually interesting role in the story.
Another thing I felt had a bit more potential was the character development. The main character talks to his soul, named Joe, but it happens very infrequently. Even the three policemen lack character at times. The main character though, who is nameless, is sufficiently developed and I suppose that's all that really matters being that the story is completely about him.
It may sound like I don't like this book but I do, I'm just disappointed in the use of footnotes. A neat idea that went no further than its neatness. Thankfully de Selby was an interesting enough character to make the footnotes not totally devoid of worth.
Fortunately the actual story is pretty great. It's surreal as hell and has a wonderfully absurd humor. It had its moments that didn't really work too well and made me consider a 3 star rating, it had its moments that were great and convinced me of a 4 star rating, and it even had those simply amazing moments that gleamed with the potentiality of a 5 star rating (Chapter 6 which deals with the hilarious "Atomic Theory," which claims that some bicycles are actually men and some men bicycles is simply hilarious, and Chapter 10 which features the main character threatened with death is poetic and contains some of the most beautiful things I have ever read and indeed had my eyes very blurry).
No spoilers but the ending is very suffice. Perhaps nowadays it is a bit unsurprising but for its time, as even the author himself is quoted as saying, it was fairly unheard of.
Though the book is mostly hilarious there are some parts that feel a little overdone. I think it's mostly due to being able to only handle so much ridiculousness and at some points I kind of got sick of the absurdity, but for the most part it was enjoyably surreal and descriptive.
Another thing I noticed, and was impressed by, was the handling of the surreal world's philosophies. The book largely deals with philosophy, from the fictional philosopher de Selby to the everyday philosophies of the insane characters. The book handles this well in that it doesn't fall into the trap of applying philosophies of our own world to this fictional surreal one. It instead goes the extra mile and rather than seeing how our philosophies work in a fictional world it shows how a fictional world would handle philosophy. As one should expect in a world completely different from our own the philosophies of such a different world would make little sense to us and sound completely fantastical and even nonsensical. I thought the book handled this well; fantastical philosophy rather than philosophy in fantasy. Anything the characters say, and indeed will say, no matter how absurd they are, will be law.
It's a very good book, one which has been regarded as one of the earliest works of postmodernism, though it is perhaps not the most consistent quality wise. It has it's amazing moments, it's very good moments, and it's so-so moments. And indeed it does have a few flaws. But it's definitely a recommended read and has some truly mind-blowing parts in it. It's the type of book that if I ever read again I'll probably have the urge to write a lengthy essay on, but for now this lengthy review will have to do.
Anywhere between 3.5 and 4 stars.