A Horse Walks into a Bar
By David Grossman, and Jessica Cohen
Flaying alive both himself and the people watching him, Dovaleh G provokes both revulsion and empathy from an audience that doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry – and all this in the presence of a former childhood friend who is trying to understand why he’s been summoned to this performance.Tweet
A big thank you to the Man Booker International Prize for introducing me to this book. I can't imagine I would have come across it otherwise. This is a brilliant novel based in an Israeli comedy club. We witness the strangest ever night of comedy when the stand-up begins to tell us his very personal story. Funny, tragic, moving, shocking and heartbreaking, this is a novel not to be missed.
A Horse Walks Into A Bar features a troubled comedian's stand-up set in front of a paying audience. But instead of jokes and a fun night out, they are submitted to a heart-breaking story from his past. While we wouldn't necessarily say that we enjoyed this book, it certainly does what it sets out to do and that is make the reader feel that they part of the audience, wondering where these ramblings are heading to and feeling uncomfortable and intrigued at the same time. We had as a mixed response as the audience in the book. Some of us were compelled to hear every detail to the end whilst feeling nervous while others couldn't bring themselves to finish the book like the audience walking out on the show.
The fluidness of the prose and the diverse vocabulary used in the book makes it hard to believe that this is a translation and a testament to how close the author and the translator must have worked together to produce the English text.
I found this a strange little book, at the heart of it is a sorry story of young boy who struggles to deal with the death of a parent right through his adult life. We learn this through spending an evening with the audience at one of his stand up gigs. It is an interesting tale with something to say about how we process information and events in our childhood and the impact they can have on us as adults. The translation of this text is impeccable too, I wouldn't have known it wasn't originally written in English unless I had been told. However, I think there is a better way of telling this story and a lot is lost through sticking to the gimmick of it being a stand up act all in one evening. The stereotypes in the audience were poorly drawn and occasionally demanded a real suspension of disbelief. I read it right to the end to see where it was going and found I was disappointed with the opportunity lost.
There's an Israeli stand up comedian on stage in Israel being, well, not very funny. He has got some jokes and he does tell them but mainly he's telling a story. And this story, with its accompanying sense of menace, of something sinister lurking in the shadows, lasts for the whole book. It's very well told and the translation from Hebrew by Jessica Cohen is seamless. I was gripped from the start. If there is a disappointment it's that the feeling of impending doom built up in the telling is not quite delivered at the end. Nevertheless an excellent, if quite uncomfortable, read.