I couldn’t sleep last night. I had stayed up desperately wanting to finish The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas, and am now paying the price. It is hard to believe that a book that had so appalled me in the first few chapters had managed to pull me into its grasp. I lay awake thinking about the characters, wondering what would happen to them all, and marvelling at the way I had become engrossed in their lives.
Set in Melbourne the book opens with a barbecue for family and friends. People and food arrive, along with personal baggage, fraught relationships and a healthy mix of race and age. Things are going surprisingly well however, until one particularly unpleasant child, Hugo, gets slapped by Harry, and equally unpleasant adult, for attempting to bash his son over the head with a cricket bat. All hell breaks loose, and how eight individuals present present at the barbecue react to this event becomes the backbone of the book.
You certainly could not describe this book as pleasant, and I just wish that I had come up with the description of a “Satanic version of Neighbours” as this blog described it. The first few chapters are indeed hard going, but having read the posts from the Auckland Readers and Writers Festival about Tsiolkas, and the fact that he won a Commonwealth Writers prize encouraged me to persevere, and I’m pleased that I did.
Tsiolkas has a voice that is very multicultural Australia, and what struck me was the racism from every quarter. Greeks are described as “wogs”, Aborigines are feared by everyone, all Arabs are potential terrorists, the Greeks have no time for the “Australeza”, and the wife of one of the Greek sons is described as “that Indian woman”. So much for the great Multicultural melting pot.
A surprising bonus in the book for me was that Tsiolkas has a remarkable ability to get inside the teenage head, and I thought the chapters of two teenagers, Connie and Richie were by the far the best in the book.
The Slap probably isn’t for everyone, (and it nearly wasn’t for me). Definitely worth a read, it’s big, bold, brassy and unashamedly Australian. I loved it.