Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Slap

The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas
Penguin Group (USA), 2010
Trade Paperback , 496 pages
ISBN-13: 9780143117148
Not Recommended

Christos Tsiolkas's The Slap is a riveting page-turner and a powerful, haunting rumination on contemporary middle-class family life. When a man slaps a child who is not his own at a neighborhood barbecue, the act triggers a series of repercussions in the lives of the people who witness the event-causing them to reassess their values, expectations, and desires.
My Thoughts:

After reading other reviews of The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas, I really wanted to like it. Alas, that was not the case. The premise of The Slap is that a man slaps a child who is not his own at a barbecue. The story is told through the point of view of eight different characters in eight different chapters. A long list of characters and their relationships are all presented in the first chapter when the slap occurs.

Since the title of the book is The Slap, I assumed that the actual slap would be the focus of the book and that would be the premise behind the chapters from the different character's point of view. That is not the case. The slap actually plays a minor role in the book. Instead the chapters are all minor character studies of a group of extremely disagreeable people. The reader is served up long, crude descriptions of explicit scenes, infidelities, and hatreds. I disliked every single character.

I grew weary of the ever prevalent profanity from every character as well as the frequent drug and alcohol abuse. But mostly I loathed the characters going from one sordid sex scene to the next. It felt like a very misogynistic novel to me. I like how Jackie at Farmlane Books put it:
"I think that The Slap is the most male book I have ever read. If you want to gain an insight into the male mind, then this book is essential reading, but I warn you that it isn’t a pretty sight. It is packed with swear words, thoughts on sex and an obsession with ‘the male dangly bits!’ This book is the male version of ‘chick lit’ and gives an insight into a male’s view of society that is rarely talked about."
I couldn't agree more. The Slap really did feel like a very male book, and not necessarily full of any insight I wanted to experience at this time. None of the female characters were believable as written. I almost set the book aside, but forced myself to finish it - not a good sign - because I wanted to see if there would be something notable at the end, if all the stories were leading up to some big conclusion. Nope.

On the other hand, kimbofo at Reading Matters liked The Slap:
"I think I was slightly enamoured of its quintessential Australian-ness, not just in its references to specific suburbs and streets, but in its depiction of Melbourne as a cultural melting pot full of people with racial, religious and political prejudices all jostling together in relative peace while an undercurrent of friction simmers just beneath the surface."
So, in conclusion, The Slap may be a quintessential Australian book that didn't cross cultural lines for me. Not Recommended


His eyes still shut, a dream dissolving and already impossible to recall, Hector's hand sluggishly reached across the bed. Good. Aish was up. He let out a victorious fart, burying his face deep into the pillow to escape the clammy methane stink. opening

The boy’s face had gone dark with fury. He raised his foot and kicked wildly into Harry’s shin. The speed was coursing through Hector’s blood, the hairs on his neck were upright. He saw his cousin’s raised arm, it spliced the air, and then he saw the open palm descend and strike the boy. The slap seemed to echo. It cracked the twilight. The little boy looked up at the man in shock. There was a long silence. It was as if he could not comprehend what had just occurred, how the man’s action and the pain he was beginning to feel coincided. The silence broke, the boy’s face crumpled, and this time there was no wail: when the tears began to fall, they fell silently. pg. 40

F****ing poofter soapie producers. She was not looking forward to the morning meeting. During the last month her writing had become florid, deliberately theatrical, and at the same time, self-aware and mocking. pg. 53

And that c**t wants to f**** it all up. He couldn't decide who he hated more: the hysterical wife who had hissed at him with unconcealed contempt, the drunk, weak f*ggot of a husband, or the whining little pr*ck he had slapped. He wished the three of them were dead. pg. 87

It's not embarrassing to feel things strongly. It's nothing to be ashamed of that you get so indignant and mad about what adults can do. That's one of the great things about being young. It just becomes a problem if you let that indignation become self-righteousness. pg. 174

A cruel thought flashed quickly and guiltily in her mind: be a man, deal with your f***ing mid-life crisis - it is so boring. pg 405


Unknown said...

That is a bummer I was looking forward to this one.

Misogynistic... wow.

Lori L said...

If you decide to give it a try I'll be anxious to read your thoughts on it. After so many great reviews, I really wanted to like it but... yeah, I felt like it was misogynistic.

pde said...

Hi guys, I am from Melb and live in the inner city -very much the environment the book was written in. The book is tough especially the inner male view but says so much about class, ethnicity and the realtionships. Melb is very cosmopolitan and for Americans very left wing(liberal). Having spent a fair bit of time in the US I can see how the book would struggle for an audience outside of the big cities. The ABC here is about to release a min series-should be interesting.

Lori L said...

Interesting point of view pde. I'm not sure the size of the city we live in would matter because, in fact, we both live in metro areas.

pde said...

Hi Lori,
The book has caused fairly polarised views here as well. The typical middle class mums book club do not like it at all. However the reader that perhaps has a wider range of experience and again an inner city sensibility believe it is very inciteful. The particular clash within families especially of second generation migrants from Greece and Italy is very specific to Melbourne.

Lori L said...

Interesting pde... I will accept that there very well could be a very specific regional sensibility depicted... but I still didn't like The Slap.