The Third Policeman and other funny books

(unnecessary note: I wrote this last night, but I’m pushing it today because I want to try something and it’s easier to test during the day. I’m sure you needed to know that….)

I picked up a copy of Flann O’Brien’s The Third Policeman knowing nothing more about the novel or novelist than that the book had been name-checked in Grant Morrison’s The Invisibles. One of the characters refers to it as “…one of the greatest books in the English language.” That’s a hell of a claim, even coming from a fictional character (and one of dubious character at that), so I figured it was worth a read.

It was, in fact, worth a read. It’s a comedy that I’ve seen described as “sardonic”, which is the sort of funny that doesn’t make you laugh, so that’s a pretty good description. It is genuinely funny; it’s just a little on the grim side in its humor. It’s a difficult book to describe without spoilers since there’s a big twist near the end. It’s the sort of twist that was a lot more novel back in it’s day (O’Brien wrote it in 1940) but might be a little more transparent to modern readers. Still, no need to spoil it, right?

The language is lovely, and the condemnation of aspects of modernity still hit home. It’s absurd in a (and I hate myself for using this term) Kafka-esque fashion, so if that’s up your alley, I strongly, strongly recommend The Third Policeman to you. It’s short, but fairly dense, so it’s not a breezy read. As someone who has read The Invisibles a couple of hundred times, this adds a little flavor to the overall experience…and I’m not going to go into any more detail than that. Read it for yourself.

While we’re on the subject of funny novels, I wanted to list some of the books that I’ve found particularly amusing. It seems like writing a “funny” novel is really, really hard since so few writers have the knack. So, on the off chance you’re looking for some written drollery, these might scratch that itch:

  • Good Omens, Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman - This is at the top of the list for a reason. It’s the funniest novel I’ve ever read, combining the sensibilities of two of the titans of the field. Not all supergroups work, but this one produced a classic. Honestly, the entire Discworld series belongs on this list, too.

  • A Confederacy of Dunces, John Kennedy Toole - This was one of those classics I’d avoided because I didn’t really know anything about it other than that they made you read it in school. It’s genuinely laugh out loud funny and I’m ticked off that I took so long to get to it.

  • Lamb, Christopher Moore

  • Any Jeeves book, P.G. Wodehouse

  • Crooked Little Vein, Warren Ellis

  • Redshirts, John Scalzi

  • The Eyre Affair, Jasper Fforde

  • The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, Douglas Adams

That’s not a complete list, of course, but if you work your way through these books, you’ll probably been in a pretty good mood. The fact that I don’t list The Master and Margarita on here is more of a personal failing than an indictment of the book. It didn’t work for me, but it did for many, many people, so I’m just going to assume the problem is on this end.