Book Review / Literary Fiction / Man Booker International Prize

A Horse Walks into a Bar: The last stand-up comedy act

A Horse Walks into a Bar by David Grossman is the winner of the Man Booker International Prize 2017. David Grossman is an Israeli author and this book was first published in Hebrew in 2014 as Sus echad nichnas lebar. Later on, the book was translated into English by Jessica Cohen as A Horse Walks into a Bar. After hearing so many good things about this book, I also thought of giving this book a chance. So, here I am with my views on this book.

This is not a book that you will thoroughly enjoy. In fact, the book is difficult to read. The writing is a bit exhausting to read. At many times, you will consider abandoning the book but it will be difficult for you. You will say ‘enough is enough’. But there is an invisible thread that will keep pulling you and you will keep reading. While the book is a small one, you will take your own sweet time to finish it. There are so many moments here that will force you to take a pause and ponder over the things.  The book is both comic and ironic. The book shows that there is a very thin line between comedy and tragedy. The author brilliantly brings forth a blending of humour and pathos, fantasies and frustrations, and, most importantly, illusions and ironies of everyday life. The book has a number of social messages.

David Grossman had a very clear idea of what he wished to achieve in this novel, and he has done an exceptional job with his plot and characters. The story revolves around Dovaleh G, an Israeli stand-up comedian. The novel begins with the start of a stand-up comedy by Dovaleh in the Israeli town of Netanya. He starts the show as a normal stand-up comedy act. He flares the audience, teases the audience, and also humiliates the audience. He throws vulgar jokes. Some jokes are good but some are really offensive. There are some punchlines here and there. He also provides a commentary on the state of Israel and the relationship of Israel with surrounding countries. The audience is appreciating his performance. But, slowly and steadily, this show starts to become uncomfortable for some of the audience. Doveleh starts to tell a story about a traumatic incident from his own childhood. But, people are not here to hear about some distressing event. They are here to hear jokes and to have a good time. They boo him. Doveleh starts to tell jokes yet again but he is far from being comedic. His own story starts to erupt once again. The crowd starts to thin out but some people keep glued to their respective seats. These people are interested in the performance that is going on in front of them. Perhaps they do not want to leave him alone. We, as readers, also feel the same emotion and keep reading the book. The real reason is a more inward one. We, like the audience, want to know about that tragic incident or we want to become a part of his life.

Dovaleh G., the main protagonist of this novel, provides the main perspective and point of view in the novel. His character has been placed carefully in the book. There are two more major characters in the book but their characters take a back seat. This is Dovaleh’s story. Characterisation, setting, story, symbolism, style – all of these are functionally related to each other in this book. And, a combination of these creates an artistic unity. You need to read this book to witness this artistic unity. This is definitely a worth-read.

3 thoughts on “A Horse Walks into a Bar: The last stand-up comedy act

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