I likely would not have read this again had it not been for a reading group. Actually I might not have finished it if it had not been for that reading group – BookerPrize
But second readings (1st review on this site) are often surprising and although the first time round I “got” how much pain is hiding out in the routine of a B-grade club’s stand-up comedian. And I got what a truly great writer Grossman is – there was a dimension I missed – how these relate to the country and people of Israel as a whole.
A Horse Walks Into a Bar
by David Grossman
2014/ 208 pages
read by Joe Barrett – 5h1m
rating: 9.75 / contemp. fiction
To recap – One night, Avishai, an older Israeli Supreme Court judge gets a phone call from a man, Dovaleh, who says he is an old friend. the judge has forgotten but it comes back – they’d been very close childhood friends. Dovaleh is now an aging stand-up comic and wants the judge to come see his show and relate to Dovaleh what he sees.
The book is Dovaleh’s routine which this night is a replay of much of the comic’s life from childhood to that stage. Interspersed with that story are the judge’s thoughts and memories.
Dovaleh is dying, both physically and on stage – he’s not funny. The routine is kind of sick and hurtful but Dovaleh’s health and life have been in trouble for some time.
Also in the audience is a small woman, Azulae, who knew him from their shared childhood neighborhood where he walked on his hands. She’s there by accident – but Dovaleh picks on her a bit.
This book is the story of a trial in which there were many crimes and many victims and many criminals – sometimes all in the same person.
On my second reading I focused more on the development of the inner-story plots and the separation and differences between the judge’s pov and Dovaleh’s. I did kind of what the author of the Guardian review did – I psychoanalyzed the characters – not the country. I also really noted how skilled a writer Grossman is to get the insides of a man, a comic like that, a tragi-comedy of a man. We’re witnessing the death of a standup comic as well as his routine. Through his bad jokes we witness his grief and his soul, I suppose.
The second time I was really trying to understand where these three characters (Dovaleh, Judge, woman) were coming from personally – not societally at all. (Also to figure out where Grossman’s “peacenik-ism” fits in – because he is that.)
Your insights in no way contradicted what I found, they just totally added to my attempts at understanding this brilliant but not fun novel. It’s a difficult read in many ways.
I felt like the audience the first time and wanted to leave because those old sad stories get a bit much (like listening to another sad diatribe about Trump – sometimes I get tired of it – no matter how much I agree.) I can see many reasons for leaving.
But I persevered and was hugely rewarded by the ending which blooms even brighter with my reading of your comments. Thank you so much for sharing!!!