A Horse Walks into a Bar by David Grossman

A Horse Walks into a Bar is a clever novel, but reading it was a tiring experience. Dovaleh G is a veteran standup comedian who takes the stage at a comedy club in the small Israeli town of Netanya. Avishai Lazar, Dov’s childhood friend, and former District Court Justice is also in the audience, and he is the narrator.

I’ve never been to a comedy club, but I’ve been to Rusell Peter’s 2013 Notorious world tour, and Dov’s routine also begins pretty much the same – bantering with the audience, but minus the opening act – which makes the crowd break into hoots of laughter. However, as the evening unfolds, Dov’s routine oscillates between good jokes and crude, offensive ones, and then midway through it takes a confessional note.

Themes covered in Dov’s personal monologue are taxing – he talks about the Holocaust, bullying, betrayal, loss, and grief. So it is understandable most of the crowd would get angry and leave the place – they came to the comedy club on a weekend night to forget their troubles and have a good laugh, not to bear witness to a comedian falling apart in front of them. Even I wanted to give up reading at times because Dov’s unraveling is intense! But I believe it also attests to the brilliance of David Grossman’s as a writer. As raw, and hard as Dov’s unraveling may have been, Grossman’s narrative kept me spellbound, and I really couldn’t give up reading it (granted I resolved into reading few pages at a time, giving myself a break every now and then).

The plot of this novel, even though it’s about a comedian, is tragic. So it is not a book for everyone, and you might have to brush up your knowledge a bit about Israeli politics.

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