First published in 1964, 'The Dalkey Archive' was Flann O'Brien's fifth and final novel. It was acclaimed as the best comic fantasy since 'Tristram Shandy' upon its publication. Some of the most important elements of the book, such as the characters of De Selby and the eccentric policeman, were taken from his earlier novel 'The Third Policeman,' which he had been unable to find a publisher for. The novel was published posthumously and is widely regarded as greatly superior.
'The Dalkey Archive' is, obviously, set in the idyllic village of Dalkey in the late 1940s. It follows the attempts of "lowly civil servant" Mick Shaughnessy to save the world from obliteration by mad scientist De Selby. The rogue scientist has hatched a wicked plan which involves removing all the oxygen from the earth's atmosphere using a substance known as DMP.
Mick snares the help of James Joyce, who he has discovered alive and well and pulling pints in the seaside town of Skerries. It is revealed that Joyce forged his own obituary in order to escape being drafted for service in the Second World War.
Local policeman Sergeant Fottrell is also enlisted in the endeavour to stop De Selby in his tracks. His theorising on the melding of man and bicycle through the pounding of the wheel against bumpy Irish roads (here called the "Mollycule Theory") forms one of the funniest scenes in the book. Fottrell ponders the possibility of treason being a side effect of the man and bicycle bonding together, as most of the bikes are made in England.
However, the plot is almost secondary to the novel, which Flann O'Brien referred to as a "study in derision". He mocks intellectual pretentiousness, religiosity and the writings of Saint Augustine. Sounds as bizarre as it is, but Flann O'Brien's surreal writing is wildly imaginative and always amusing.