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Fiction

The Slap of Reality. Whose side are you on?

One of life’s embarrassing moments is to watch misbehaving children throwing tantrum or run riot in the public places. One you wouldn’t want to be found dead with is to have your own children doing this! I felt powerless in the face of such scenes. I hope the child would stop, I hope the parents of the child would have a better sense to stop him or her. But what happens when they don’t? What happens when you think it may threaten your child’s safety? My family had refused invitation with to meet one family in a public place because of his children.

However at a suburban barbeque one afternoon, a character in the book, Harry, went forth and take charge of the situation, or rather abandon his self-control, and slaps a misbehaving boy in a family gathering. This single act reverberates through the lives of families and friends who attended and forces them to choose side. The ‘New Age Platitude’ group thinks the act is barbaric. The disciplinarian thinks the act is justifiable.

When I first heard of this book last year, it was making big waves in the blogosphere. Shocking, foul language, racism, sleazy were the common labels tagged to the book and it put me off from reading it.

Then I saw it lying there on the display table in the library 2 weeks ago, the new paperback version, I thought, “why not?” and everything that the reviews said are true and I love the book to bits.

Tsiolkas is an Australian national of Greek lineage, so it is expected that the main characters are Greek. Tsiolkas told the story through the eyes of eight characters:

  1. Hector, Harry’s cousin, who narrates the barbeque afternoon.
  2. Anouk, friend of Hecto’s wife Aisha, Jewish and single, a playwright and soap opera writer
  3. Harry, a car mechanic business man, his child Rocco and wife Sandi. Supposingly good looking but under law suit from the slap. Here I won’t spoil it for you but there is a shocking revelation at the end about Harry that will change your mind.
  4. Connie, a college student, good friend Richie, works in Aisha’s veterinary clinic, babysits Hugo for Rosie and is having an affair with Hector.
  5. Rosie, Hugo’s protective mother who is married to aspiring unemployed artist, Gary. Her good friend is Shamira, married to an aborigine Muslim convert Iqbal.
  6. Manoli is the father of Hector, with feisty wife Koula who cannot get over the fact her son married out of their kind. Manoli reminiscence his friends in the Greek community and re-evaluate his relationship with his daughter-in-law.
  7. Aisha, Indian, a veterinarian who owns her practice. Independent and good looking, she is friends with Rosie and Anouk since adolescence.
  8. Richie, good friend of Connie, gay and in the process of finding his own foot and coming to terms about who he is.

Why do I spend so much time telling you who they are?

The thing is Tsiolkas has chosen a balance portfolio of characters in terms of age, demographic, ethnicity, sexuality and background. In the eyes of UK National Statistics Office it would have fulfilled the requirements for all 6 diversity strands of diversity!

The sequence of sections is written with a lot more planning and thought, so that when the book appeared segmental there is still a coherent sequence of events that run across all characters. The cultural melting pot to me doesn’t seem uniquely Australian but feels international for me. Although with an Australian slant, I began to understand there are more Slav, Lebanese, Islander and aborigines are a unique mix to Australia than say, the migrants from Subcontinent India, Africans and Europeans which make up the majority of migrants in the United Kingdom.

The characters are not likeable. All of them have a dark secret past. Most of them are fouled mouth, some are sleazy. All of them have a distinct voice and character except the nasty way they behaved seems to be Tsiolkas’; the voice of the writer. However, each character was given ample time to narrate their past, to share their most intimate feelings about their present and I felt invested in them.

The Slap is an ambitious book. Many books attempt to be contemporary but The Slap is iconic for me. In one book, it manages to address parenting, love, marriages and infidelity, displacement, girly friendships, career and modern women’s dilemma, home ownership, old age and death, college students facing the big bad world, covering all ethnicities and demographics of the Australian society strung along with coherent theme and plot line. This goes to show what an amazing feat Tsiolkas has achieved.

It is written like a soap drama series.  It is dramatic and there are numerous memorable scenes that stay stuck to my mind and it would take awhile for me to shake them off. I read the book whenever I can, learning a new vocabulary or two on racist slurs, finish it in a breeze and feel utterly, totally satisfied to stumble upon such an enjoyable book.

The Slap has won a whole host of awards, including the Australian Literature Society Gold Medal in 2008, the Commonwealth Writers Prize for Best Book in 2009, the Vance Palmer Prize for Fiction at the Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards in 2009 and the Nielsen Book Data Booksellers’ Choice Award in 2009. It was short-listed for the Miles Franklin Award in 2009.

I can’t wait for Dead Europe to be made available in the UK this October. I heard it’s 10 times more horrifying than this. Tsiolkas, like Robert Bolano seems to write for a male audience. The sort that you would call a “Male” book. Is there such thing as Male book or Female book, you think?

It’s a stunning novel of contemporary social landscape that has no rival. Tsiolkas is a writer with a force to reckon. I give it a 5-star but deduct half a star for banality and atrocious foul languages.

Stunning, iconic, controversial, politically incorrect, which is great. A satisfying ending, reverberating at all levels. Its message strong and urgent. All scenarios are laid out bare but the book will not give you answers, you make up your own mind about what is right and what is wrong. Highly recommended, if you can get past the f  and the c words, never a dull moment for me.

Rating: 

Paperback. Publisher: Atlantic Books 2011; Length: 483 pages ; Setting: Contemporary Melbourne, Australia. Source: Reading Battle Library. Finished reading on: 17th June 2011.

Other views:

Bookie MeeThe Slap is a very brave book in many aspects to show the contemporary Australian life. The slap itself is often just a noise in the background amidst the loudness of everything else.

Jackie@Farm Lane Book Blog: The debate over parental responsibility and slapping has caused a big stir in Australia, where this book originates, but I think this book covers all angles of the subject well. The book is easy to read, fast paced and has a satisfying ending.

Tony’s Reading List: It’s a good read, particularly for anyone living in Melbourne; it’s just a little disappointing and uneven, and I walked away from the book without really getting what the author wanted to say.

KimbofoThe Slap is by no means a perfect novel — sometimes the writing feels forced, especially when sketching in the back story for individual characters, and I suspect the numerous music references are going to date it quickly — but its ambition, its scope and the sheer force of the story-telling more than makes up for this.

Novel Insights: That, added to the fact that I really detested most of the people in it mean that I didn’t really enjoy The Slap. A brilliant book for creating discussion, but flawed in the way those points were delivered.

About the writer:

Christos Tsiolkas was born and grew up in Melbourne and was educated at Blackburn High School and the University of Melbourne where he completed an Arts Degree in 1987. He edited the student newspaper Farrago in 1988.

Tsiolkas’ first novel, Loaded (1995), was filmed as Head On (1998) by director Ana Kokkinos, starring Alex Dimitriades. In 2006, his novel, Dead Europe, won The Age Book of the Year fiction award. In 2009, his fourth novel, The Slap, won the Commonwealth Writers Prize 2009 for best novel in the South-East Asia and South Pacific area.

Web chat with Christos Tsiolkas on “The Slap”

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About JoV

A bookaholic that went out of control.... I eat, sleep and breathe books. Well, lately I do other stuff.

Discussion

25 thoughts on “The Slap of Reality. Whose side are you on?

  1. I have this book on my tbr list – you are my first read review for it and particularly like that you negated it’s rating by a 1/2 star for bad language – tee hee!
    Thanks for the review.

    I guess I am stuck with this stressed out purple icon with the sunglasses… I guess he could be green…

    Posted by Shellie | June 28, 2011, 8:26 pm
    • Shellie, Shellie, What would I do without you and your funnies! LOL… 🙂 Yes, half mark off for bad language! Yes you are the purple icon with a cool sunglasses. Please do read The Slap now, you will love it! (You were quick, you read my post like 1 minute after I post it!, Thanks!)

      Posted by JoV | June 28, 2011, 8:31 pm
  2. I hated this book ,he just can’t write female charcaters ,all the best stu

    Posted by winstonsdad | June 28, 2011, 8:30 pm
  3. Wow, this sounds so interesting and so provocative. I can’t believe I haven’t heard anything about it. I have to look for it!

    Posted by rhapsodyinbooks | June 28, 2011, 11:15 pm
  4. I thought this was a great book just because of how visceral my reaction to it was. I can’t imagine anyone reading this book and feeling neutral or apathetic about it… I also felt like one of the things that was well done is that at various times you can totally see where each party is coming from. There are no clear-cut heroes or villains, which I always appreciate since rarely is someone entirely right or wrong in real life. This is one of those pieces of fiction that even though it got really wild at time felt very real and believable to me.

    Posted by Steph | June 29, 2011, 2:08 am
    • Steph, it does feel believable for me even if it feels like soap drama-ish at times. You are right about knowing where everyone is coming from and once you empathise with them it’s difficult to be hard on them. Overall, I thought the book is very thought provoking. Thanks for commenting Steph. 🙂

      Posted by JoV | June 29, 2011, 8:34 am
  5. Great review Jo and glad you enjoyed the book. I hated it but that’s half the fun of discussing books eh? I’m sure part of the reason I hated it was that none of the characters are likable but it’s also because they weren’t, to me, believable. Tsiolkis is supposed to be depicting my country, my ‘people’ – the kind of area and social group I live in – if we had a similar BBQ in my street you’d get roughly the same ‘diversity index’ – yet none of it felt remotely familiar to me at all. Those people in that circumstance are caricatures to me. It was actually the book that made me leave my last ‘literary’ book club 🙂

    Posted by bernadetteinoz | June 29, 2011, 4:48 am
    • Bernadette,
      Thanks for your comment. I’m amuse that this is the book that made me leave your book club!
      I didn’t see Tsiolkas bearing the Australian flag and I think he didn’t meant to project a true reflection about Aussie society. A few years ago I read only technical books and said to someone who is reading “The Kite Runner” that “I don’t read fictions”. She replied that “Fiction is a reflection of reality” or based in reality to that effect. I wasn’t convinced. These days I read fictions now, but I must say I still take everything with a pinch of salt and do not believe anything the novel wants to project as gospel truth.

      I know how you feel about a book which is set in Australia should give out a positive message or accurate picture to the world, I feel the same with my home country, but I just want to believe that I am reading fiction, therefore for entertainment. If I want to know about Australia society, I’d rather pick up a non-fiction dissection about the society by an authoritative figure of the subject! I agree the characters are caricatures in The Slap! 😉

      Posted by JoV | June 29, 2011, 8:41 am
  6. I have read (and reviewed) all of his novels – ‘Dead Europe’ is by far the best 🙂

    Posted by Tony | June 29, 2011, 6:53 am
  7. It is definitely an accomplished novel, but I did just find that it dragged in the middle-end as Tsiolkas worked to get all the character perspectives in.

    Great review! You’re almost making me want to read it again and be a little more patient 🙂

    Posted by novelinsights | June 29, 2011, 9:13 am
    • Novelinsights,
      I think it’s very accomplished. I like writers who actually plan the structure of their novels and keep it air tight with plots and stuff. I look forward to hear your thoughts again if you re-read it! Thanks for dropping by! 🙂

      Posted by JoV | June 29, 2011, 3:30 pm
  8. I’m really pleased that you enjoyed this book as much as I did. I loved the realism of this book and am interested to read comments about how people don’t believe it can be true. I can’t be sure it is right about Australian suburbia, as I don’t know much about it, but I spotted a lot of things that ring true for my local society. I agree they are unlikeable characters, but it takes a really talented author to engage me with people I know I wouldn’t like. I could talk about this book for hours and I think that is a great sign!

    Posted by farmlanebooks | June 29, 2011, 9:49 am
    • Jackie,
      I’m please too that we are one on this! I could identify with a lot of the characters’ fears and anxieties and that’s really a good thing. Perhaps these characters do not all exists or happened at one time or be part of the same family at one go, I suppose Tsiolkas just want to build a Microcosm of the Australian diverse society in one family and it feels truly “in your face” kind of way that make it less believable. But I love the book and I am all ears if you want to talk about this for hours! 🙂

      Posted by JoV | June 29, 2011, 3:35 pm
  9. I have been wanting to read this book since I heard about it last year. I like books that polarise opinion. If you don’t have a strong reaction after finishing a book it isn’t a good sign.

    Posted by Graham | June 29, 2011, 2:47 pm
    • Graham,
      It’s out on Paperback now, Waterstones sells it for 99p if you spend £20 and above. I do like books which polarise opinion but I hate it if I ended up being the negative end of the conundrum!

      Posted by JoV | June 29, 2011, 3:43 pm
  10. Wonderful review, Jo! I have seen this book at the bookstore and when I saw that you were reading it, I was looking forward to reading your review. It looks like this is quite a powerful book from. I will look for it in my library.

    Posted by Vishy | June 29, 2011, 8:01 pm
  11. Ooh look how this book makes you get all excited! 😀 I’m glad you liked it so much!
    What are the 6 diversity strands by the way? I’m curious.

    ps: I’ve found Fingersmith at a Book Exchange place somewhere (we are free to pick up any book from the shelves) so I don’t think I need your copy now. You can release it to another soul 🙂

    Posted by mee | July 11, 2011, 12:51 pm
    • Mee, The 6 diversity strands are gender, age, ethnicity, religion or belief, sexual orientation and disability. Diversity is not the same as equality, a topic for another day! 😉
      ok, Fingersmith for another kindred soul then! 🙂

      Posted by JoV | July 14, 2011, 7:31 am

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Ratings Defined

0 = Abandon the book after first chapter

1 = Waste of paper, we will see what the environmentalist say about this!

2 = Skip it, read the book if you have got nothing better to do

2.5 = An average book, easily forgettable.

3 = A good read.

3.5 = A good entertaining read, a page-turner

4 = So glad that I read the book, a book with substance and invaluable for future reference

4.5 = So glad that I read the book, would pester everyone to read it, invaluable, I would want to own it and wouldn't mind a second read (something that I seldom do)

5 = The book is so good that I feel like I am on scale 4 and 4.5, and more, it blew me away and lingers on my head for weeks!

Books Read

JoV's bookshelf: read
Hold Tight
The Fault in Our Stars
The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon
The Thief
Mockingjay
Catching Fire
A Tale for the Time Being
Into the Darkest Corner
The Liars' Gospel
Goat Mountain
Strange Weather In Tokyo
Strange Shores
And the Mountains Echoed
Ten White Geese
One Step Too Far
The Innocents
The General: The ordinary man who became one of the bravest prisoners in Guantanamo
White Dog Fell from the Sky
A Virtual Love
The Fall of the Stone City


JoV's favorite books »
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Reading, after a certain age, diverts the mind too much from its creative pursuits. Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking. - Albert Einstein (1879 - 1955)

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