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.

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

Challenges
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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