The book selected by my book club for this month was A Horse Walks Into A Bar by David Grossman, translated from the Hebrew by Jessica Cohen. On reading the blurb I was intrigued by the premise, and this was increased further with the book recently winning the 2017 International Man Booker Prize.
A Horse Walks Into A Bar is a relatively short novel which packs a lot into its 200 or so pages and is something quite different from anything I’ve read before. The famous joke featured in the title and the fact that it focuses on the life of a comedian would make you think that a light-hearted read was in store when in actual fact this book offers something far darker. In it we meet Israeli stand up comedian Dovaleh G as he takes to the stage in a comedy club in the small town of Netanya to an audience awaiting an evening of entertainment. But what they get is something unexpected, as Dovaleh starts to unravel before the crowd, revealing uncomfortable memories from his past and old wounds that are yet to heal. All this is done in the presence of an old childhood friend who has been summoned to the performance for reasons of which he is uncertain. And as Dovaleh continues telling the story of his life we also get to see the perspective of his friend and his interpretation of the events unfolding on the stage.
In the opening pages I struggled to warm to Dovaleh who came across as very erratic and rude, with his jokes airing on the offensive side. His jokes and comments left members of the audience confused and unsure whether to laugh or cry or to leave altogether. And as a reader I felt a little disorientated alongside the audience as Dovaleh begins to tell his story and what starts as a comedy performance transforms into a mediation on life and death and everything in-between. It is a story that makes for uncomfortable reading at times with some harrowing content and political and emotional themes. It is also told without any chapters which I wasn’t a fan of as I like to have stopping points along the way. However, this works well in that we are witnessing a continuous performance which spirals out of control, and it’s a story that lends itself well to being read in a single sitting. Whilst I was intrigued by Dovaleh’s story and the overall concept I did struggle a little to get into it but was keen to find out more about this fascinating character and the traumatic events of his past. I also enjoyed seeing events through the eyes of his friend, Avishai, and his assessment of the events unfolding around him as he begins to piece together why he has been bought to this show.
A Horse Walks Into A Bar is an unusual and intriguing read which deals with some complex issues and unravels the life of a veteran comedian and the events that led up to his on-stage disintegration. Whilst I didn’t enjoy reading it as much as I had hoped it is a fascinating story told in an interesting setting that leaves the reader with plenty to ponder over.