A Horse Walks into a Bar by David Grossman

Review published on August 9, 2017.

Winner of the Man Booker International Prize 2017, this is a somewhat gregariously delivered account of a man with a string of messages to deliver in a twisted and uncomfortable manner. There is some humour, but it is really more about suffering and a boiling resentment.

It is set in an Israeli comedy club. What should be about a fun night with easy humour, becomes a wacky deranged display of life and its cruelty, wrapped in a guise of self-depreciation and transference of guilt and blame. It is incredibly fast paced, and the dialogue comes at you like a machine gun. At first the audience find the skinny, odd comedian funny, even though he spends too much time abusing them. They go with it at first, but then their views are mixed. Some stay, some leave, intrigued by what this man is trying to say.

If I am honest, that was what I felt like reading it. Perplexed, uncomfortable, intrigued – do I continue reading this, as something all encompassing may be revealed in its denouement or do I stop and leave it there, feeling somewhat exhausted and baffled? But I continued. What transpires are that there are few people there who know the comedian. He seems to have a message for them…

I don’t think this book will be for everyone. It is powerful in its own right. There is a lot of layering in the canon-fired dialogue, which is where its craft has been appreciated. It stirs up many emotions. Essentially it is about loss, both from a country’s and an individual’s perspective. To this end it seems to want to make us look at ourselves as an audience looking on, maybe participating… What are we buying into, what are we part of? Are we sucked into tolerating a malfunctioning system of governance? Should we accept it passively or ought we have a moral obligation to think about it and do more??

Sara Garland 4/3

A Horse Walks into a Bar by David Grossman
Vintage 9781784704223 pbk Jun 2017

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