A Horse Walks into a Bar – David Grossman

34211922In a club in a small Israeli town, a comedian gives a shocked audience the most unconventional stand-up performance they’ve ever seen. While some choose to get up and leave, others remain enthralled and entranced, watching the comedian, Dovaleh G, fall apart on stage.

I’ll be honest, I didn’t get this book. It recently won the Man Booker International Prize, so I was intrigued and wanted to give it a go. Unfortunately, as far as I can tell, it seems to have won the award purely because of its unusual style and relatively hard-hitting subject matter rather than for the quality of the actual story.

The book is written in real-time, from the perspective of an audience member: a childhood friend of Dovaleh who has been summoned to the show at his request (though he doesn’t really understand why, or particularly want to be there). Despite the suggestive title and the setting of a comedy club, A Horse Walks into a Bar is not funny. It isn’t even remotely amusing and is barely entertaining. Reading the book, I felt exactly the same way as the audience members who chose to get up and leave. As it happens, this may well have been the desired effect and, if so, the book is remarkably well written (if not, then oh dear). Although I give the author kudos for his impressive and unconventional writing abilities, getting through this book was a painful and unpleasant experience.

Dovaleh himself was probably the most difficult thing about this novel. He was not likeable and was too annoying to be particularly interesting, yet we follow his entire rambling narrative from start to finish. I skim-read large portions of the book, until right near the very end where things did admittedly pick up and become marginally more engaging. He covers multiple themes during his on-stage breakdown, including friendship, betrayal, revenge and the Holocaust. Sadly, most of this went over my head (probably largely down to the skim-reading, but I’m holding the book responsible for not drawing me in enough).

There is no question that this is a clever book, and probably worth a read, but it is not even remotely enjoyable.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Goodreads | Amazon

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