Category Archives: Christos Tsiolkas

The Slap, by Christos Tsiolkas

2.5 stars2.5/5

The Slap was chosen by one of my colleagues at work for our book group at the end of last year.

Tuskar Rock, 2010 edition (paperback), 496 pages - book group.

It’s taken me a little while to write about it. Why? I suppose I felt a bit apathetic about it, which presumably is not the appropriate emotion considering that the book deals with the controversial subject of whether it is ever ok to hit a child.

The story mainly centres around an event that happens at a friendly barbecue and the fallout from it. A young child creates a scene and is aggressive towards another child. The situation becomes complicated when a grown man named Harry steps in and slaps the toddler. The barbecue breaks up amid horrified screams from the toddler’s mother and shock amongst the other adults.

The book is delivered as a series of excerpts written from the point of view from the various people who were at the barbecue. This is definitely a clever way of highlighting the different responses to the incident, and also making the reader question their initial response to events. For example – finding out that Harry has a history of beating his wife definitely made me feel less sympathetic towards his character.

Actually, reading most of the character’s extracts made me feel unsympathetic towards them. Even Aisha, who seemed quite an interesting woman, disappointed me by the end of the book. The bits of the book that were testosterone-fuelled (Hector and Harry’s expletive filled extracts) packed the most punch for me. I disliked Hector and Harry, but felt that their accounts were more authentic-sounding. Something about the female accounts just didn’t quite ring true for me, although it’s difficult to put my finger on why. Out of all the characters, Richie – a young man struggling to come to terms with his sexuality – was the most tenderly written and he was really the only person that I felt any empathy for by the end of the story.

There is a lot of crude language in The Slap and I was pretty shocked at how much casual racism there was but then I don’t think that either of these things were inappropriately employed by the author – they simply delivered a realistic view the way that people can be. The behaviour of the characters seemed very impulse-driven, be that sexual or physically violent. I found I disliked the characters but this was not what made me apathetic towards the book. I think it got off to a great start – I was hooked after the first incident had taken place, and Harry’s account was fascinating. However I found the middle to the end of the book quite slow to read. The accounts of Manolis (Harry & Hector’s father) bored the pants off me. Connie’s chapter was just too long.

I do think that The Slap raises many excellent discussion points around class, family and society’s mixed views towards smacking a child. One of the excellent points made at our book group discussion was about the definition of ‘the slap’ itself. Was it a slap around the face? A slap (smack) on the bottom? Does it matter? Does it make a difference that it was  a hulk of a man slapping the child and not one of the mothers?

One of the most successful aspects of the book for me was that Tsiolkas doesn’t prescribe an answer. The reader is left to make up their mind, and in my case I was left more baffled as to my own feelings than anything else. However I felt that the book fell down in the way that the female characters were written and tried to cover too much ground, which made the middle to end section of the book really drawn out and dare I say it… a little bit dull. That, added to the fact that I really detested most of the people in it mean that I didn’t really enjoy The Slap. A brilliant book for creating discussion, but flawed in the way those points were delivered.

The Slap is a book that provokes strong responses. Read more positive reviews from Farm Lane Books (“…the male version of ‘chick lit’…”) and Reading Matters (“…a very bold book…”).

Have you read The Slap? If you haven’t do you think its a book that you would enjoy?