Monday, 19 January 2009

The Slap

Christos Tsiolkas' new novel, The Slap is, for my money, this year's Miles Franklin award winner, and if not, it bloody well should be. Here's the publisher blurb:

At a suburban barbecue, a man slaps a child who is not his own.
This event has a shocking ricochet effect on a group of people, mostly friends, who are directly or indirectly influenced by the event.

In this remarkable novel, Christos Tsiolkas turns his unflinching and all-seeing eye onto that which connects us all: the modern family and domestic life in the twenty-first century. The Slap is told from the points of view of eight people who were present at the barbecue. The slap and its consequences force them all to question their own families and the way they live, their expectations, beliefs and desires.

This is a big, muscular, sprawling brawl of a novel that sweeps its characters and the reader up into its violence, taking with it friendships and shattered dreams. It takes a broad slice of Australian suburban life - the real one, not he media driven Neighbor's version of it- and exposes all its dirty little secrets. Its subject is us - you and me - and our attitudes, beliefs, national myths and collective fears. It is about our prejudices, petty hatreds and self-obsession, but most of all, it is about love and devotion to family. 

Imagine, a novel with the rights of the child as its central theme. We are the inheritors of generations of violence against us as children. In the sixties, they were still bashing little children at primary school. I may have only been 8 or 9 when the sadistic bastards lined a row of boys up every morning for the cuts, or the cane, but it went in there - you don;t forget that kind of thing. Thankfully, it had the opposite effect on me and turned me into a rabid snarling anti-establishment anti-authority screaming street marching banshee. But you get that if you use violence on the wrong people. But some people simply internalise it and carry it around with them, only to re-inflict that repressed fear and loathing onto those they love the most. That is generally the pattern; rape, incest, pedophelia, domestic violence and even just a slap to punish a kid - all this stuff, sadly, operates within the family unit. That a slap is at the centre of this story begs the bigger question - where does it stop and where do we draw the line? 

This book cements Tsiolkas' reputation as one of our best and brightest writers.

Go for it chaps.
To the bookshop!


  1. goodie...just ran out of printed the bookshop I go. Maggs

  2. why is it you on a regular basis manage to expose my lack of diversification with reading material. ANOTHER one I have to go get. SHEEEZ!.

  3. It sounds absolutely fascinating. This is definitely going on my reading list, thank you!

  4. Hughesy... that's want to be a VERY fucking good book, there. The scenario you describe falls right into the very centre of my most-loathed Litratcha Novel Hell. As described, it's trivial, irritating, and most likely vastly overstated.

    You're completely convinced that it's an interesting piece of work? Bear in mind that I thought Flanagan's "Unknown Terrorist" was a piece of pompous, pointless, smirkingly superior leftist propaganda that offered absolutely nothing new, interesting or even vaguely worthy to the debate.

    I have a lot of faith in your assessments. If you reckon this one is the goods - better and more useful than Flanagan's piece of pointless polemic - I will definitely acquire and read the piece. But I want to know more, first. I am very, very disillusioned with Litratcha, of late.

  5. Have exactly the same problem with Flanagan as you FH - waaaay too arty.

    The Slap is art - not arty. There is a big difference. The situation is may look like a life matters subject, but the book is not really about that conflict - it is about the suburbs, about the people who populate the suburbs, their hopes and dreams and their simmering discontent. The Slap doesn't answer any questions or have a position. It throws up the conflict and has the characters work their way through it. It is predominantly character driven - well worth the study for any budding authors out there wanting to learn about how to build character.

    But lets not forget FH, that I am the person who thinks the Master and Marguerita is straight litracha, not fantasy. I wouldn't believe a thing I had to say.

  6. I have only read good things about this book and gave it to my sister for her birthday - have yet to hear back from her though.

  7. This one's currently doing the family rounds and I'm due to get it next week. As long as the self-importance amplifier is turned way down I'll be happy. So will the neighbours when I don't scream and shout about ononist writers.

  8. M&M as straight lit? Perish the thought. Surely it's Magic Realism, no?

    I appreciate your summation and the distinction you make between art, and Arty. I'll see what I can do about finding a copy of The Slap.

  9. And I appreciate yours - art in lower case and Arty with a cap. Heheheh

  10. 'turned me into a rabid snarling anti-establishment anti-authority screaming street marching banshee' what you? I'm shocked!!

    Will get it once i've done Peter Hamiltons latest.

    M&M is Russian Lit therefore it gets away with murder!! hmm now whats this black cat doing with a mauser?

  11. When I am in public and see a child being slapped, I make a point of rushing up and asking "May I too beat your child? Please?"
    This inevitably leads to the incident ceasing, but one day I hope to get a 'yes' from a complete stranger.

    The book sounds like a lot of fun.

    My fondest memories of receiving the strap, cane or walking stick during my upbringing, I found that the line of 'Can't you do it any harder than that?' and a few chuckles usually sorted the fuckers out.

  12. simon you never told me you went to an English private school!!

  13. It's funny hughesy my best mate and I were telling my wife about the cane, we were probably the last group of primary school kids to go through with it. I dunno about smacking as I've yet to have any kids, yet I was smacked and came from a single parent family that never saw his dad, yet I've failed to fall into any of those categories you mentioned. Mind you I say smacked, not slapped or hit. However it's a but black and white the smacking thing, I mean is it more or less important than both parents working 60 hour weeks, or dad drinking too much, or mum smoking while pregnant?

  14. I wouldn't believe a thing I had to say.

    thats a real nice piece of ARSE covering if i every seen it..SHEEZ..

    Ya get to 8 from 10 now for that one , was 9, I am Fucking shattered.

  15. Hmm... Flint I read Unknown Terrorist straight up in about 5 hours. First thing by Flanagan I read, and to some extent I agree with your assessment, however:

    1) The characterisation of the likes of R@y M@rt1n was right on the money;

    2) The assessment of the sort of personal and political corruption within law enforcement that the Howard government's anti-terror laws encourage rang true; and

    3) While the scenario is quite contrived, it does make a solid attempt and garnering the all-important kernel of empathy that is required for some people to understand the point of view of others where there are serious social and peer impediments resisting this.

    That said, what I liked most about the book was that it encouraged me to start to consider trying to write again, because here was a prize winning author and I was thinking "I can write better than this".