The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas
Atlantic Books, 8.99
This one has been doing the rounds for a while now – almost two years in fact, but after having it on my shelf for ages, I’ve finally got around to reading it. The Slap has had a lot of praise since its 2008 release in Australia and then its 2010 publication in the UK. It’s been given plenty of thumbs up in critical reviews and was even nominated for a Booker Prize. But is it one of those over-hyped-therefore-everyone-reads-it type affairs? Or is it actually, rather good? And is it all about kids and parents and about having kids and being parents – because that might not appeal to everyone? Well… let’s see.
First of, no it’s not just about having kids and being parents – it’s a lot more dark, controversial and downright more complicated than that. Although the blurb at the back makes it sound as such. There are eight main characters in the book – some single, some married, some parents, two are still kids – all have different views on the world and the ‘big event’ that is about to happen. They all come together for a friend’s barbeque when ‘the event’ occurs. A man slaps another person’s child after they behave somewhat badly towards his own son. Cue disorder of all sorts with everyone who witnesses the slap. There are talk of lawyers, court, right and wrong. And each seems to be dragged into a grey aftermath (whether they want to to or not). They all have their own views on the situation of course – should this man have slapped this child? Should he have left it to the parents to deal with? What if the parents were never going to deal with it?
Once the scene is set, each chapter examines the thought process and individual lives of each of the characters. Some of whom are close to the central individuals (or are the central individuals), some of whom aren’t.
First up, this is one of those rare occasions when you’re unlikely to completely root for these people. In fact, you kind of end up hoping they all fail… miserably. Why? Because they’re simply not that likeable. The language Tsiolkas uses isn’t for the faint-hearted either. If you can’t bear to see the c-word uttered in normal conversation – it’s best you stay away, there’s a lot of that in here. If you can, however, see past the bad language and the disappointment, then you’re on to a winner because the characters themselves are fascinating.
Tsiolkas takes each character and fully dissects them so there is no way the reader can walk away without fully knowing each and every one of them. You’ll understand their good points, their bad (of which there are a lot) and there are a lot of secrets to be unveiled too which makes the story seriously interesting. Most of the group are guided by basic human interest (sex), most pretend to be a whole lot more of a better person than they are and there is a lot of ‘living double lives’ going on.
Again, to really enjoy the book you need to persevere through the fact these people aren’t very nice. And once you’ve got to know the characters, it’s easy to start questioning whether people you know are actually like this and they are just hiding it really, really well. But in truth, this is still just a story – a well observed one, but a story all the same. But it does happen and delving in to their complicated and frankly petty lives is pretty fascinating.
It’s really not all about The Slap. That’s just a point in the story that brings everyone together. In short, if you can get past the foul language and the fact that this story is not about what happens after the aforementioned ‘event’, then you are probably not going to want to put it down.
For those looking for a plot-friendly narrative, look away now – this is not what you think it is. For those wanting to dissect a list of characters with a fine-tooth comb, get involved now. * * * *