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:
- Hector, Harry’s cousin, who narrates the barbeque afternoon.
- Anouk, friend of Hecto’s wife Aisha, Jewish and single, a playwright and soap opera writer
- 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.
- Connie, a college student, good friend Richie, works in Aisha’s veterinary clinic, babysits Hugo for Rosie and is having an affair with Hector.
- 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.
- 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.
- Aisha, Indian, a veterinarian who owns her practice. Independent and good looking, she is friends with Rosie and Anouk since adolescence.
- 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.
Paperback. Publisher: Atlantic Books 2011; Length: 483 pages ; Setting: Contemporary Melbourne, Australia. Source: Reading Battle Library. Finished reading on: 17th June 2011.
Bookie Mee: The 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.
Kimbofo: The 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.