‘The Slap’ by Christos Tsiolkas

The Slap

A shocking sting of consequentiality.

Described by Commonwealth Writers Prize judge, Nicholas Hasluck, as “a controversial and daring novel”, ‘The Slap’ by Christos Tsiolkas is a clever read that challenges the perception of the human condition. After an unruly young boy is slapped at a barbecue in suburban Melbourne, the novel tells of its widespread consequences to all those who witness it.

Following the eventful barbecue, a court case ensues. Throughout the eight chapters of the book we gain the insights of eight different characters, and find out about the reverberations that the slap has had on them personally. Whilst the premise itself may not sound very interesting, the way in which Tsiolkas has written about the impact of it is intriguing and stimulating. Each character’s chapter is a story in itself, with its own twists and turns, and the novel is clever in that from one seemingly small and relatively unmeaningful event, so many different stories have been created.

Tsiolkas has done a wonderful job of creating realistic characters. You experience a variety of emotions, beginning the book by feeling one way towards them, and ending it feeling another.

Harry is the perpetrator of the slap, hitting Hugo, the child of Rosie and Gary. The main character, however, is Hector. A man with a secret, he’s an incredibly dislikeable character who talks about his wife, children, and life in general, in an often shocking way.
Rosie is a smothering, but often timid, mother whose life is centred on her son. After Harry slaps Hugo, Rosie is outraged, demanding that the police are called, screaming that Hector’s committed child abuse. To an extent I felt sorry for Rosie, with an alcoholic and unsupportive husband, her main source of support is from Connie.
Connie is another character with a secret. Working with Hector’s wife, and appearing to be perfectly innocent by rushing to Hugo’s side after he’s slapped, she’s not as wholesome as she first seems.
Her best friend, Richie, provides something of an outsider’s view of the consequences of the slap in the concluding chapter of the book. He was my favourite character, always trying to do the right thing; it’s very easy to warm to him.
We also hear from Aisha – Hector’s wife, Anouk – one of her best friends, Harry – Hector’s cousin, and Manolis – Hector’s father.

I appreciate that I haven’t given too much away about the characters, but it’s difficult to do so without revealing major elements of the plot. All of the character’s stories tie together, directly or indirectly, so it’s difficult to comment on their individual stories without revealing a lot about the overall story.

The language used in the book is often shocking. The details in certain scenes – the majority of which are sexual – made me gasp out loud at times, and to an extent I like that. I like the daring element of the book, it’s meant to shock and it’s not ashamed about that. However, I’m not sure if that’s what makes the book interesting, not so much the plot, but the use of language. No doubt there still remains a good story without it, but I think that the reason why ‘The Slap’ got so much attention when it was first released could be more due to its provocative linguistics, rather than the actual story it tells.

The book was also a bit of a slow starter, it took a while for everything to ‘kick off’, and for me to really begin enjoying it. In addition, I felt that it was longer than necessary. Certain scenes would go on for pages, but lacked the amount of depth you’d expect in such a space. I definitely think that the book’s good, and I certainly enjoyed it. However, I can’t quite understand why, as the cover proclaims, it’s ‘the phenomenal international bestseller’, because it certainly doesn’t encapsulate the qualities that I’d expect such a book to have.

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