Sunday, 9 July 2017

A Horse Walks into a Bar by David Grossman

"'I want you to look at me,' he spurted. 'want you to see me, really see me, and then afterwards tell me'"

David Grossman's Man Booker International winning novel A Horse Walks into a Bar is one of the most unique books I've read in a long time. I've read and reviewed a couple of this year's shortlisted works, The End of Eddy by Edouard Louis and Fish Have no Feet by Jon Kalman Stefansson, so I knew that the standard was high, but I didn't actually get round to opening Grossman's novel until the prize had already been awarded.

So what's so unique about this novel? Firstly the structure, the narrative takes place in real time over the course of a single evening in a small town in Israel. The narrator is an invited guest to a night of stand up comedy so the story in effect puts us (the reader) in the audience as one comedian, Dovaleh G, holds court.

The second standout feature of the the novel is the way Grossman uses comedy, specifically that much loved form of ironic and satirical Jewish humour, to frame one man's existential breakdown. The novel is translated from the original Hebrew by Jessica Cohen who does an amazing job in making this all work in English.

A Horse Walks into a Bar is tough to read in places. There is little change in pace as Dovaleh's act unravels and he falls further into reflection and ultimatley despair in front of a live and stunned audience. The jokes continue to flow with little breathing space. Reading this novel in one go would be ideal but, with life getting in the way, that leaves the problem that dipping in and out is distracting and, I suspect, what will put many readers off.

For me this was a surprising winner of the Man Booker International Prize, Edouard Louis highly personal and intimate novel has the edge I think, but one that I won't forget reading. The prize is shared with both author and translator and I don't think this accolade will have ever been more deserving than for the pairing of Grossman and Cohen.

I read this novel mostly on the train into Marylebone.

A Man Walks into a Bar by David Grossman and translated by Jessica Cohen published by Vintage, 210 pages.     

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