The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas
|The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas|
|Category: Literary Fiction|
|Reviewer: Robin Leggett|
|Summary: Tackling a large number of issues, this is a book that will almost guarantee you will be offended at the characters' behaviour at some point. At times brutal, and often controversial, the book doles out a high level of honesty with compassion for the characters.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 496||Date: May 2010|
|Publisher: Tuskar Rock|
Slapping your own child is bad. Slapping someone else's child is worse. This is the event at the heart of Christos Tsiolkas' Man Booker-nominated novel, set in Melbourne, Australia, when at a barbeque for friends and family, the host's cousin slaps the child of the best friend of the host's wife.
For many people, Melbourne is associated with a certain daytime soap opera on television - and indeed one of the characters is a writer for a television soap opera - but this is Neighbours Gone Feral. There are few areas of political correctness that The Slap doesn't dip into - and indeed the eponymous Slap is in fact one of the least shocking of view points. About the only issue that doesn't get an airing is cruelty to animals, and since the host's wife is a vet, I was fully expecting an instance of koala torture to appear at some point. But all the rest are here: religious prejudice, racism, adultery, class, inappropriate relationships, homosexual prejudice, very strong language, drugs, alcohol, and most of all heavy doses of sexist-bordering on mysogenistic behaviour in the clash of a patriarchal immigrant community (Greek) in modern day Australia. The result is a book that is high on the shock factor and few, if any, of the characters are wholly sympathetic, although all are sympathetically dealt with by the author. It is a bit like an x-rated soap opera.
The story is told through the eyes of a number of people: - the host, Hector; his glamorous Indian wife; the teenage assistant at her vet surgery who has had a relationship with Hector; the girl's male gay best friend; the mother of the child; the cousin who applies the slap and his wife; Hector's father and so on. Cleverly these all progress the story from the initial event, the resulting police involvement and the consequences of the fall out of the event on the people concerned as family and friendship loyalties are pushed to the extremes. The voices themselves cross every imaginable line; class, age, race, sexual persuasion. Thankfully, the slap itself accounts for a small proportion of the page count, but serves more to expose other problems in characters' relationships. It's a book where it is easy to see the structure that the author intended, but it is totally readable and doesn't come over as gimmicky - which it could easily have done.
While I enjoyed the book and found myself looking forward to my next reading 'episode', I eventually became weary of the constant shock tactics. On the one hand, it's brave in tackling many sensitive areas, and political correctness is almost wholly absent, but I couldn't help wishing the author had taken fewer 'issues' and dealt with them more thoroughly. Yes, we often see two sides to the coin - the victim child is a terror and has not been disciplined well by his alcoholic father and still-breastfeeding-at-three mother, but the cousin certainly has violent tendencies in other areas too. Fair enough that this may represent reality where issues are not clear cut, but Tsiolkas never really comes down on one side or the other and tends to throw another issue into the mix rather than resolving any single point of view.
All of this serves to add to the reality show / soap opera feel to the book. By the time we get to the final chapter of the gay Ritchie, with whom the author seems to have the most empathy, I was numbed to the onslaught of issues. It's also what I'd term a very male book.
There's no doubt it's well written, but it perhaps tries too hard to offend.
Our thanks to publishers Tuskar Rock Press and Atlantic Books for inviting us to review The Slap.
Why not try pretending to be a judge of the Man Booker and working your way through some of the others on this year's long list. We've enjoyed Room by Emma Donoghue, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell and Trespass by Rose Tremain.
You can read more book reviews or buy The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas at Amazon.com.
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