The Slap, by Christos Tsiolkas.

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.

10 thoughts on “The Slap, by Christos Tsiolkas.

  1. Marion 29 May 2009 / 12:49 pm

    Jane – I felt exactly the same about this book, in fact I commented on the festival coverage saying “I finished The Slap because I had to. By that I mean I wasn’t enjoying all the characters (some were quite loathsome) but I was hooked by the story telling and wanted to know how it all came out. I thought there was some pretty powerful writing in this book but it was uneven. The portrait of the guy who administered the slap was so powerful, and then he disappeared – never to be seen again. If there was something redeeming in this it was the feeling the author seemed to have for his teenage characters – the kids are alright as they navigate the screwups of adult society.”

  2. keenanj 29 May 2009 / 1:39 pm

    I was quite relieved to never see Harry again! What an awful character, the instigator, but by no means the main character. I think the character of Aisha was perhaps the most central and powerful.

  3. kebabette 29 May 2009 / 6:36 pm

    Sounds like a rare book to stir so much up. It’s interesting to take different angles and perspectives on one event and its repercussions. I read Testimony by Anita Shreve and it does a similar thing around a sexual incident at an American high school – intense stuff, but the girl who the incident happens too comes off as pretty repellent so it feels like sides are taken.

  4. keenanj 2 June 2009 / 1:21 pm

    Yes I read Testimony. I wasn’t sure in the end what I thought about it. I didn’t find the characters hugely engaging, whereas The Slap had some characters that you ended up caring quite a lot about, even if they were far from perfect.

  5. Cate 9 June 2009 / 2:01 pm

    I felt the same too, Jane. Just finished it last night. In the end I was in a rush to finish it and get it out of my life. I had to find out what happened – but it was hard work after I realised there was not going to be any redeeming element in the story. I did think the characterisations were brilliant – and often horrifyingly realistic…

    • richard 11 June 2009 / 10:48 am

      I’ve published the chat I had with Tsiolkas at the Auckland festival on the library website. In it he says:

      “I know the book is confronting, but I meant it to be confronting on the level of ideas, and about assumptions of what a middle-class life is like in a city like Melbourne.”

      • Lisa Hill 11 June 2009 / 8:08 pm

        Yes, I’ve heard him make this claim about a ‘new kind of middle class Melbourne’ – and all I can say, as a middle class Melburnian who has lived in the multicultural inner and middle suburbs for 40+ years, and worked for all of my career in the multicultural middle-class and working-class outer suburbs of this city, is that I have *never* encountered people like the ones Mr T writes about and I wouldn’t be inviting them to any BBQ of mine because their language, values and social drug-taking would upset my friends and relatives!

  6. Sheila 22 March 2010 / 9:15 am

    I have to say I read this book cause my bookclub picked it …it was without doubt the most loathsome book we have done. No one enjoyed it and most did not even bother to finish it. There was not a single redeeming adult character in this book … if this is “quintessentially Aussie” the only hope lies with the teenagers. He is not an author I’ll be seeking out again!

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