Read this book fast. Ideally over a couple of days, or one.
Not that I actually have much time for reviews which have the cheek to start unironicallyRead this book fast. Ideally over a couple of days, or one.
Not that I actually have much time for reviews which have the cheek to start unironically in the imperative... Who is anyone to tell you how to read it?
I like the recent microtrend for standup comedy as novel (see also Paul Beatty's The Sellout) but, as the entirety of A Horse Walks into a Bar is one evening's long set with a handful of interpolations, taking longer over it feels like watching bits of a film over several days: however good it is, my stray instinctive thoughts ask "Is this still going on?" (Not really a 4-star feeling, is it? But for the combination of other content, plus how I assumed I'd have felt about the book if I'd read it faster...)
Similarly - in the same way I expect that a millisecond-to-millisecond stream-of-consciousness-and-bodily-experience narrative of a sprint race, if read slowly, could seem like overkill to anyone who'd never been a keen participant, even at school level - Grossman's microscopic detail of the fluctuating mood and rapport of audience and comedian was at once fascinating and slightly repetitive. Given that I used to live with someone who did local-circuit standup, I need no convincing that it is, on one level, like this. (Perhaps it's somewhat overdone, given the narrator is a highly interested spectator rather than the comic himself sweating it out under the lights.) But what a novel perhaps can't give is the sense of how something that is experienced with minute intensity in the moment is also over in the blink of an eye, all those tiny movements suddenly under vacuum-packed compression. A Horse Walks into a Bar is all about the buzz, all-eyes-on during the event, rather than the recoil and the slump afterwards.
And, honestly, I've only ever once seen a comedian attract and play with such concentrated attention from a crowd as Dovaleh Greenstein does at times here: Stewart Lee, 2005. Though he didn't throw it all away and pull it back again and over and over and over. The set related in this novel has an electric fluctuance, moods turning on a sixpence, far from the comfy-old-beer-smelling-jumper atmosphere I thought characteristic of not-very-famous veterans like Dov and their regular crowds. This is obviously meant to be an exceptional night, but it sometimes stretched my credulity and I had, in the end, to jettison the idea that this novel was pure realism: regardless of eventual reactions, it felt like a (relatively original) device for presenting the narrative of part of a character's life, rather than simply a representation of a comedy set. It was easy to imagine that a lot of work, editing and revisions had gone into the book. In one of those unlikely parallels that spring up from proximate reading, the narrator and his subject play off one another in a manner that reminded me of Clarice Lispector's The Hour of the Star. (And Dov is, like Macabéa, poorer than our patrician storyteller, very short, presented as almost physically repellent and/yet deserving of sympathy, and apparently doomed.)
However, given the more conventional litfic story in the margins - two men in late middle age, perhaps inevitably near the author's own age, who've not met since their teens, haunted by pond-ripple events from the past that, depending on your viewpoint, you may find anticlimactic at their revelation; the usual themes of memory and death loitering - I was, really, glad of the bold structural decision to make the set encompass the whole novel.
As this takes place between books five and six of a novel series in which I've only read up to book three, it's not surprising I found parts of NightAs this takes place between books five and six of a novel series in which I've only read up to book three, it's not surprising I found parts of Night Witch (and not necessarily the obviously spoilery bits) somewhat opaque. Or maybe that was because it's like one of those action films you settle down to watch assuming it'll be big dumb fun, then the plot turns out to be a whole lot more convoluted than you bargained for.
Nice to see a new [to me] strand of foreign magic in Grant's already cosmopolitan London - which, due to its date of publication ends up as timelier comment on Russian strongarming abroad than the authors intended; perhaps otherwise it was meant to resolve a relative neglect of the topic of Russian influence in wealthy circles in London, as compared with the prominence of some other immigrant communities in the series. Plenty of cool stuff going on here, too, with Soviet-inspired art. And Varvara seems like a character with plenty of mileage, not to mention unexplained backstory. I hope this isn't the last time she appears in the series. And I was really happy to see a type of plot I've always thought series like this one should have, but have otherwise never seen: (view spoiler)[where events actually turn out not to have had a supernatural cause. (hide spoiler)]
I really don't like the way Lesley's character trajectory has headed. In Moon Over Soho and Whispers Underground I felt such an affinity with her, and saw the best portrayal I'd ever seen in books of what it's like from both sides when someone has a medical issue that cuts them off from the social life and friends they once enjoyed (I think a book would inherently have to be about something else, not take that as its main topic, to show the reality of being sidelined). It's obvious how this later could have led to (view spoiler)[grudges and taking an outsider stance, and "going rogue" (hide spoiler)], but it still seems a departure from her essential personality simply to serve the needs of plot.
I doubt I'd have liked that aspect of the story any more had I read it later, but it does seem as if it would have been better to read this at around the right place in the novel series.
The extra features emphasise to me more than ever the way that, like films, comics require so many people so much time to produce, yet can be consumed far more quickly than a novel. This (and the way they get comparatively little esteem) I find somehow very sad....more