Oct. 5 marks the centenary of the birth of Irish novelist Flann O’Brien — the most famous pen name of those used by Brian O’Nolan — who died of cancer at age 54. Keith Hopper recently wrote an appreciation of O’Brien and his work for the New Statesman:
O’Nolan completed his second novel, The Third Policeman, in 1940. In its opening pages, a nameless narrator confesses that he has murdered an old man to get the money to publish a book about an eccentric philosopher. As a consequence of his actions, the narrator is transported to a hellish parallel universe, populated by killers and madmen and patrolled by three sinister policemen. The book is at once an existential whodunnit, an absurdist work of science fiction, a post-colonial allegory, and a dark, Menippean satire. In its philosophical scope and comic vision, it is funnier than Joyce and bleaker than Beckett, and is now considered one of the first — and finest — examples of postmodernist literature. [Publishing house] Longman, however, rejected it: “We realize the author’s ability but think that he should become less fantastic and in this novel he is more so.” Disheartened and embarrassed, O’Nolan pretended to have lost the manuscript, and The Third Policeman remained unpublished until 1967, a year after his death.