Christos Tsiolkas – The Slap

Posted on | September 8, 2010 | 9 Comments

Christos Tsiolkas The SlapA Gen-X story, The Slap is set in Melbourne with a Greek family at the pivot point. Hector, the protagonist, is married to Aisha, an Indian girl. The two of them are the envy of their friends, set in their perfect lives, with two children. Of course, there is no such thing as perfection, once you peel away the layers, but on the face of it, they are pretty much “perfect.” Aisha is vet; Hector is a bureaucrat.

The two of them host a barbecue one afternoon, inviting their friends and family as well as the children. Disagreements between the kids (Spiderman on TV?), unease with the in-laws, and tensions building between some friends sums up the afternoon, although again, on the face of it, everyone seems to be having a good time. But then, the facade falls when Harry, Hector’s cousin, slaps a brattish four-year old across the face, and that’s the tipping point.

The drama that unfolds is almost unbelievable, with the parents looking to press charges – the mother is one of Aisha’s best friends – and Hector and Aisha trying to maintain some kind of decorum. Hector sides with his cousin, and Aisha with her friend. Stalemate.

But, this linear narrative isn’t just focused on the slap. One could argue for days as to whether the slap was deserved or not, and still not reach a verdict. Instead it focuses on the people at the barbecue, their reaction to the slap, and which side they’re on. It also gives us a peek into the lives and thoughts of a bunch of people living in the middle-class Melbourne community. Apparently, affairs are rampant, alcoholism and recreational drugs common and racism and homophobia normal. Oh, and the slang is profanity-intensive.

I’m not sure I enjoyed the peek though. While some seemingly perfect characters had a massive fall from grace, the lack of self-awareness to the degree of coming across as complete morons was evident in others. Some people had over-inflated opinions of themselves, and some had haunting pasts. As the narrative progressed, we learnt more about all of them, and for the most part, they became more and more unlikeable. I’m an idealist, hate the very idea of cheating and don’t really care about the boxes that society puts people in. As long as someone’s “nice,” it’s good enough for me. So, reading this book had alarm bells jangling in my head almost like there’s no tomorrow.

It’s not a literary novel, and personally, I think the author tries too hard to be too controversial. Each chapter is written from the point of view of one of the characters (including Hector, Aisha, Harry, Hector’s father, the slapped child’s mother etc), and each chapter brings with it a plethora of expletives. Do parents, grand-parents and children actually use four letter words with one another as part of normal conversation? Again, maybe I’m super-conservative, but I don’t think I’ve ever sworn in front of my parents… and vice versa.

I was really looking forward to reading this book, and I guess I had extremely high expectations from this book, which were unfortunately not met. Maybe I would’ve enjoyed this book a lot more if I hadn’t opened it with about a million pre-conceived notions! That always happens to me!

What did you think of The Slap? Do you think badly behaved children deserve to be slapped? And does it have a place in the Booker shortlist?

I’m inclined to reply in the negative to the last question, but hey! What do I know?!


9 Responses to “Christos Tsiolkas – The Slap”

  1. Susi (The Book Affair)
    September 8th, 2010 @ 9:58 pm

    I still can’t decide whether I want to read this book or not. I’d love to for the topic is very controversial. But then again, I bet I would agree with you on the points of criticism you’re making (swearing and trying too hard to be controversial). I’m torn.

  2. Pam
    September 8th, 2010 @ 10:39 pm

    I’ve heard this is a bit of a ‘rough’ read, but still want to give it a go. I usually enjoy books written from different characters points of view, but am concerned about all the swearing – just seems a little unnecessary.

  3. Jackie (Farm Lane Books)
    September 8th, 2010 @ 10:58 pm

    I can’t decide whether he was trying to be contraversial or just reflecting a part of society that I’m not used to. I know a lot of families that swear at each other all the time (I try to avoid them!) so although I’d never do it, it is normal in some sections of society.

    I think it was right to be left off the Booker short list, but I’m pleased it made the long list. Any book that promotes that much discussion is a good thing.

  4. charley
    September 8th, 2010 @ 11:02 pm

    I don’t like the idea of slapping children, mine or anyone else’s. Even though I don’t have plans to read this book, I’m kind of curious to read the section regarding the slap itself.

  5. Stephanie
    September 8th, 2010 @ 11:04 pm

    I’ve been kind of on the fence about whether or not to read this book. I think I will probably skip it.

  6. Kathleen
    September 9th, 2010 @ 10:21 pm

    Sadly I’ve yet to read this one but have heard so much about it that I don’t think I will be able to resist.

  7. Rambles and Digressions – Of the Booker, August Reading, September Reading and… : another cookie crumbles
    September 10th, 2010 @ 12:35 am

    […] me by. I didn’t even realise it, and even while writing out my $0.02 worth of thoughts on The Slap, I was half-wondering when the shortlist was going to be announced. I could’ve googled it, […]

  8. anothercookiecrumbles
    September 12th, 2010 @ 10:45 pm

    @ Susi : Guess it’s good to read the book and see if the fuss is worth it. The good thing about this book is, it doesn’t take long to read, so it’s not oodles of wasted time!

    @ Pam : The swearing was unnecessary – in my opinion anyway! Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a prude, and I do swear every now and then, but, this was over the top at sooo many levels!

    @ Jackie : Luckily, I don’t know any families that swear at each other. I just can’t imagine swearing in front of my parents – they’d give me the look, that still makes me hope that the floor will open and swallow me up! I’m not complaining about this not making the shortlist, but I agree with you – this book has provoked much discussion! It’s a good thing.

    @ charley : The section on the slap itself is about half a page! Basically, a spoilt child was going to hit another child with a bat, and the parent got annoyed and slapped the spoilt child instead. I agree with you for the most part about hitting children, but, I must admit that there have been some children that have tested my resolve on that one!

    @ Stephanie : I don’t think you’ll be missing out on much if you skip it. It was kind-of thought-provoking though…

    @ Kathleen : Looking forward to your thoughts on this one :) Hope you enjoy it.

  9. tuesday
    October 11th, 2012 @ 4:44 am

    As an 21 y-o Gen Y Australian, I can’t say this reflects the Australia that I know. Sure, racism and homophobia are prevalent (not in the overt, ugly way that Tsiolkas makes it out to be), but I’m agreed with you on the point that he tries too hard. In every way. Not just regarding the controversy and the drugs and profanity, but even just with language/style… he sounds like he’s trying to be somebody he’s not, for the sake of churning out an ‘impressive’ novel.

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