Tuesday, August 08, 2017

A Horse Walks into a Bar

Cast in the form of a club performance by an outspoken stand-up comedian (more Lenny Bruce than a smug, crowd-pleasing Tommy Tiernan), this is one of the most unusual, provocative and haunting novels I’ve read in ages. As you’d expect, there are loads of jokes, both terrible and brilliant (every time I recall the one about the parrot, I find myself smiling again), but this is a serious book that tackles serious issues head-on: family dysfunction and its effects on an only child; heart-rending grief and pain; the current volatile situation in the Middle East.

The writing is so vivid that I felt I was part of the audience; one minute reacting to the protagonist’s taunts; the next, feeling genuine sympathy as he cowered in a corner of the stage. No novel is perfect, of course, and I thought that the account of a truck journey was far too protracted, but for every such criticism, there was so much here that had me stuck to the page.

Like To the End of the Land, David Grossman's extraordinary 2010 novel, this is definitely not easy reading, but I think you'll find it more than worth your time and effort. And you’ll never forget that parrot.


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