The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas

the slap

The Slap starts with a barbeque party at suburban Melbourne. The explosion breaks when a man slaps a child who is not his own. The ripples affect everyone there: the family where the barbeque takes place, the family of man who slaps, the family of the child who is slapped, and all their family and friends.

The book won Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Overall Best Book and it was/is huge in Australia, reserving the number one place for many weeks. I was then quite surprised to find the quantity of swearing in it. At one point, it was so overwhelming I wondered if I should give up (and I’m not even the type who’s sensitive to coarse language). Not only that, I found the beginning was very slow, and it only started to pick up the pace a third way through.

The book is written in third person close view of eight different characters in chronological order. Interestingly, and unfortunately, the first four characters are easily the least interesting of them all. It doesn’t help that the first two men whose heads you are “privileged” to get into are so hard to read. It’s like getting into a very male head, whose thoughts are completely unfiltered, and an angry male at that. There are excessive swearing, drugs, sex, racial slurs, you name it. There’s just so much anger.

But if you succeed to pass through the first four characters, I would say that the last four would make up for the former. My favorite would be the mother of the slapped child. I don’t agree with many of her opinions, but it’s amusing to get into her head. My second favorite would be the old Greek immigrant who is the uncle of the slapper. Melbourne has the biggest Greek community outside of Greece. So it was fun to know their side of the story.

The setting was a big enticement for me. I lived in Melbourne for 6 years before studying and working, and love the place dearly. I recognized many of the place references and lifestyle that I had fun reminiscing. I also loved how multicultural the book is. It’s not Australia the white man country. It’s Australia that I know. Australia the country of immigrants and multicultural pot. In this book we meet Greeks, Indians, Vietnamese, Jews, white Aussies, and Aborigines. The boldness of racial slurs and how each race is portrayed, again, sent jolts to my system. The Slap is a very brave book in many aspects to show the contemporary Australian life. The slap itself is often just a noise in the background amidst the loudness of everything else.

Christos TsiolkasDespite wincing at many points, I found myself noted down quotes with strong opinions from the book:

On racism:

“Her own parents’ racism had been casual, was certainly never expressed violently or aggressively. Her mother pitied the blacks and her father had no respect for them; but beyond that they prided themselves on tolerance.” ~ p245

On the young generation:

“These kids, they’re unbelievable. It’s like the world owes them everything. They’ve been spoilt by their parents and by their teachers and by the fucking media to believe that they have all these rights but no responsibilities so they have no decency, no moral values whatsoever.” ~ p270

On love:

“This, finally, was love. This was its shape and essence, once the lust and ecstasy and danger and adventure had gone. Love, at its core, was negotiation, the surrender of two individuals to the messy, banal, domestic realities of sharing a life together.” ~ p406

On aging:

“But age did silence dreams, did mellow desires, even the most ferocious lusts and fantasies.” ~ p295

“He believed he had glimpsed a truth, a possibility: equanimity, acceptance, a certain peace–in old age, all men were equal. Not in work, not in God, not in politics, only in age.” ~ p324

On women:

“Not for the first time, he sighed inwardly a the innate conservatism of women. It was as if being a mother, the agony of birth, rooted them eternally to the world, made them complicit in the foibles and errors and rank stupidity of men. Women were incapable of camaraderie, their own children would always come first.” ~ p325

On the future:

“… it slowly began to dawn on him that the future was not a straight linear path but a matrix of permutations and possibilities, offshoots from offshoots. The map of the future was three-dimensional.” ~ p439

4 stars
2009, 485 pp

First line
His eyes still shut, a dream dissolving and already impossible to recall, Hector’s hand sluggishly reached across the bed.

2009 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Overall Best Book
2009 ABIA (Australian Book Industry Awards) Book of the Year

Book Awards IV (book #4), Aussie Author (book #1)

Also reviewed by Liked it! — Farm Lane Books Blog | Mad Bibliophile | Reading Matters

First Tuesday Book Club – May 2009 episode (with 11:35 mins video)

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21 thoughts on “The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas”

    1. Vivienne, sorry to hear that. Hope everything is okay.

      Norton is rather tricky because it can be too cautious and give too many false alarms (I used it before for a while). Don’t know if I could do anything to help you :(

  1. The quotes sound lovely, but for some odd reason, I’m not really interesed in this book. I’m glad you liked it though (it looks like you’re having a great year so far! So many five-star ratings!). And it’s always great to read books that we can relate to in some way, like how you could relate to the book being set in Melbourne.

    1. Michelle, I AM having a great year so far. But I gave this book 4 stars, in case you mis-saw it :).

      I understand about how sometimes a book just doesn’t interest us and we can’t explain why. I guess there are just too many books out there, so the competition is fierce!

  2. Lovely review. And I agree that this is very apt portrayal of the current ‘ethinicity’ of Melbourne with its melting pot of different cultures.

    Have to say that I really disliked the mother of Hugo and thought she was insufferable. However, I also realise that Tsiolkis has set her up to be both disliked and sympathised with since she shows battered-woman syndrome. As obnoxious as Hugo was, I did like the little tyke. Loved the chapter from the point of view of Hector’s father.

    And thanks for the link love. :-)
    .-= [Mae´s last blog: Review: “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” by L. Frank Baum [1900]] =-.

    1. Mae, I didn’t like Hugo’s mother too and I think she’s not meant to be likable, but really I found her thoughts absolutely amusing to read :). Thanks for visiting!

  3. Glad you enjoyed this book. Although I’ve heard many great reviews, it’s just not grabbing my attention enough to beat the other’s on my TBR pile right now – maybe it’s the whole backyard BBQ thing, not sure. I do admire the frankness of those opinions expressed though – sounds disarmingly blunt, which is always refreshing… whether or not we agree with the sentiments.
    .-= [Booklover Book Reviews´s last blog: Awards Ceremony] =-.

    1. I have not read many Australian books at all, so this one appealed to me a lot, especially after all the awards it was winning. I probably hoped to get an insight into the contemporary Australian people and their life. To see if it’s any familiar, if I could relate in some ways.

  4. Hi Mee,
    I just read your review and was really interested by your comments and the quotes too. You picked out some of the same bits that stood out to me! (especially the ones on love and old age).
    I work for the company that is making The Slap into an 8 part TV series. We are shooting it at the moment and it will be on the ABC later this year. It has been so amazing to watch this book come to life.
    If any of your readers want to follow the process of the making of this into a TV show then there is a facebook page where behind the scenes clips etc are getting uploaded. The link is in case people are interested.

    1. Julie, thanks for the info! I vaguely knew that The Slap would be made into a TV series, but didn’t know about the details. Sounds interesting. I might post something about this later. Thanks for visiting!

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