Friday, 30 April 2010

The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas


DATE READ: April 2010

NOTES: This is a really difficult book to review! I found the opening premise brilliant. A group of friends and relatives gather for a barbecue in suburban Melbourne. All is fairly relaxed until a brat of a child disrupts everything with his appalling behaviour. One guest, who fears his own child is being physically threatened, extracts the awful Hugo from the dispute and slaps him. From this one event a whole stream of actions and recriminations unfold. Some are very certain of what should happen, others more ambivalent. But as the story progresses positions harden and loyalties between friends and family members become strained.

The Slap is told from the point of view of different characters. Everyone is well drawn and the writing is powerful and compelling. I found myself racing to the end because I wanted to know the final outcome. Tsiolkas focuses on the many rifts within modern Australian society. There is a beautifully written scene when the old Greek Manolis bumps into a young man and his girlfriend in the doorway of a cafĂ©. He had assumed they would give way for him – but they didn’t and a collision takes place. Manolis is confused and embittered about the general lack of respect – money has become more important than manners.

My problem with the book is that I felt so alienated from most of the characters. He paints a very depressing picture of suburban life. Alcoholism, drug-taking and adultery all seem to be the norm. I found the overt racism and racist language very disturbing – do people really speak like this? Sexual obscenities occur on almost every page and nearly all the explicit sexual activity is verging on the violent. I would be interested to know how middle-class Australians relate to this book.

Some superb energetic writing and excellent plotting – but not a comfortable read!

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