The Slap by Christos Tisolkas is a huge domestic success both critically (Commonwealth Writers Prize, shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Literary Award, longlisted for the Man Booker Prize, amongst others) and commercially (over 170,000 thousand copies in Australia alone), and has been made into an ABC television series (set to screen in 2011 and stars Jonathan LaPaglia, Melissa George, Alex Dimitriades and Sophie Lowe).
I finally read it last week (e-book version) and was glad I did. It’s a marvellous book, of course, but I couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed. It was advertised as a masterpiece that explores what happens when a man slaps a child that’s not his own at a family and friends backyard barbeque. While the repercussions of the ‘slap’ are always around, this book is really eight separate character portraits of a cross-section of contemporary Australians.
Essentially, the story is told in eight chronological chapters, each chapter told through the eyes of one character that was present when the slap occured. There’s the owner of the house where it happened, his wife, his father, the family friend, the child’s mother, the perpetrator, and two young teenage observers. However, the entire book is written in third person subjective, so the voice is consistent despite the shift in character.
Full credit goes to Tsiolkas for pulling off this ambitious project. He brings each of the eight characters to life with his raw, often electrifying prose. It’s a powerful, sexually charged narrative that tackles some very interesting questions not just about corporal punishment, but also about family life, violence, raising children, death, race, gender politics, the legal system.
I enjoyed it a lot, and I was surprised by what a page-turner it was at various points of the book. That said, it is a bloody long book (483 pages in paperback), and felt like one. Naturally, I found certain characters more interesting than others, and accordingly the less interesting characters made the book drag on for me. Much of it was about the banality of middle-class suburbia, and I wanted more on the slap.
3.75 stars out of 5
[PS: Tsiolkas’s characters all live much more interesting lives than I do. I guess that was another problem — I didn’t feel that every character and their life was authentic — rarely do I see such multicultural and varied family/social circles that also happen to be filled with so much explosive drama. But maybe that’s just because I live such a boring life.]