Friday, 21 July 2017

A Horse Walks Into A Bar by David Grossman


A Horse Walks Into A Bar by David Grossman
First published in Hebrew in Israel as Sus echad nichnas lebar by Ha'kibbutz Ha'meuchad in August 2014. English language translation by Jessica Cohen published by Alfred A Knopf in February 2017.

Winner of the Man Booker International Prize 2017.

Where to buy this book:
Buy the book from Amazon.comAmazon.co.uk
Buy the ebook from Kobo
Buy the paperback from Speedyhen
Buy the paperback from The Book Depository

How I got this book:
Received a review copy from the publisher via NetGalley

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The setting is a comedy club in a small Israeli town. An audience that has come expecting an evening of amusement instead sees a comedian falling apart on stage; an act of disintegration, a man crumbling, as a matter of choice, before their eyes. They could get up and leave, or boo and whistle and drive him from the stage, if they were not so drawn to glimpse his personal hell. Dovaleh G, a veteran stand-up comic – charming, erratic, repellent – exposes a wound he has been living with for years: a fateful and gruesome choice he had to make between the two people who were dearest to him.

A Horse Walks into a Bar is a shocking and breathtaking read. Betrayals between lovers, the treachery of friends, guilt demanding redress. 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.

I am not sure why I chose to respond to an emailed NetGalley invitation to read A Horse Walks Into A Bar. I previously read David Grossman's Be My Knife and didn't like it at all. I am also often underwhelmed by Booker prize winners. So the odds were set against this novel from the start which is why I was amazed to find myself completely taken over by it! I can't genuinely say that I enjoyed the read because I think its subject matter is too dark for that, but immersed, compelled, entranced. For me, A Horse Walks Into A Bar was one of those books where everything else around me ceased to exist while I was within its pages. It is not a particularly long novel and I read it in two intense burst, emerging each time not exactly sure of how much time had passed or how I suddenly returned from an Israeli comedy club to a Welsh field (we're camping)!

Grossman evokes the dark oppressive nightclub so vividly that I could clearly see the desperate stand-up comedian, Dovaleh, in the spotlight, his unwilling audience in the shadows and his invited guest skulking by the door. Like the guest, as readers we don't initially know what Dovaleh is trying to achieve on this night or why we are there. Like the audience I found his early routine embarrassing and later sections uncomfortable to witness. Dovaleh is too personal, too upfront with his revelations, but it is impossible to look away.

I am sure my lack of knowledge of Israeli life and culture meant that several references were lost on me, but even without such insight I loved this book. It won't be for everyone certainly and there were moments when I almost couldn't bear Grossman's sadism towards Dovaleh. Phrases and images are still rolling around my brain and I think will do so for hours and days to come. A Horse Walks Into A Bar could well be my book of the month.


Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by David Grossman / Contemporary fiction / Books from Israel

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