Man Booker International Short List: A Horse Walks Into a Bar by David Grossman
Next up on my Man Booker International challenge is A Horse Walks Into a Bar by David Grossman. Check out my review and see where it ranks in my personal list of Man Booker nominees.
This ARC was provided by Random House UK (via NetGalley) in exchange for an honest review.
A Horse Walks Into a Bar by David Grossman
Published: February 2017
Reviewed by: Book Worm
Find it/buy it here: A Horse Walks Into a Bar
Synopsis from Goodreads: The award-winning and internationally acclaimed author of the To the End of the Land now gives us a searing short novel about the life of a stand-up comic, as revealed in the course of one evening’s performance. In the dance between comic and audience, with barbs flying back and forth, a deeper story begins to take shape–one that will alter the lives of many of those in attendance.
In a little dive in a small Israeli city, Dov Greenstein, a comedian a bit past his prime, is doing a night of stand-up. In the audience is a district court justice, Avishai Lazar, whom Dov knew as a boy, along with a few others who remember Dov as an awkward, scrawny kid who walked on his hands to confound the neighborhood bullies.
Gradually, as it teeters between hilarity and hysteria, Dov’s patter becomes a kind of memoir, taking us back into the terrors of his childhood: we meet his beautiful flower of a mother, a Holocaust survivor in need of constant monitoring, and his punishing father, a striver who had little understanding of his creative son. Finally, recalling his week at a military camp for youth–where Lazar witnessed what would become the central event of Dov’s childhood–Dov describes the indescribable while Lazar wrestles with his own part in the comedian’s story of loss and survival.
Continuing his investigations into how people confront life’s capricious battering, and how art may blossom from it, Grossman delivers a stunning performance in this memorable one-night engagement (jokes in questionable taste included).
Book Worm’s Ratings and Thoughts: This book invokes a highly original form of storytelling. It is set over the course of one evening in a comedy club in Israel and is told from the first person point of view of a member of the audience. As the book progresses we learn that the narrator is an old friend of the comedian (Dov) and is there expressly because Dov invited him.
The further into the evening we get, the less funny the show becomes and the more we learn about Dov’s past and the tragic events that lead him to this point in his life. Dov uses violence against himself throughout the show and while some of his jokes did make me laugh, some of them were questionable at best.
In terms of writing quality this is pretty much a straightforward narrative. There was nothing I found particularly magical or out of the ordinary in terms of the use of language. Character and plot development are also limited as we only have this one evening performance to go on, and while we do get a life story, there are big chunks missing from it.
In terms of overall enjoyment, I found it hard to relate to this book because I couldn’t connect with the characters. I felt some sympathy for Dov but his way of coping with the hand he has been dealt was alienating to me as a reader.
Writing quality: 4/5
Character development: 3/4
Plot development: 2/4
Overall enjoyment: 1/2
Want to try it for yourself? You can purchase your copy here: A Horse Walks into a Bar
Here is my ranking of books thus far:
1. Fever Dreams (18.5/20)
2. Mirror, Shoulder, Signal (17/20)
3. A Horse Walks into a Bar (15/20)
We want to hear from you? Have you read this book? What did you think? If you haven’t read it, does it sound like a book that would appeal to you? Why or why not?