This book is a bit of a slap in the face, much like the fulcrum of the novel itself. It’s dark, very dark, and filled with degenerate, unlikable characters in a biting social commentary on a slice of suburban Australia. It’s good and it’s bad and it’s ugly all at once.
I’ve been reading Christos Tsiolkas’ The Slap maybe once a year, and each time I find something new in it. Tsiolkas is the unflinching observer of society and he fillets the middle class in raw, exposing prose. Suburban Melbourne is spared no mercy. The Slap is haunting in its uncomfortable exposure of society. I found that the detailed character analysis was a strong point of the novel. Every character is at once horrible and redeemable, torn between selfish desires and moral duties.
The Slap centers on a single event that shatters a group of friends. A birthday barbecue ends in turmoil when a child is slapped by a man who is not his father. The slap rips the circle of friends and family into a legal and moral battle that changes all involved irrevocably.
The saga sweeps along, told in 8 chapters from different characters present at the barbecue. I loved this aspect of the novel, as Tsiolkas doesn’t lock the reader into a single point of view on the subject, but has distinctive arguments for and against the act explored and leave ultimate judgment up to the reader. However a major detractor from the whole book is the abnormally high use of cursing, borderline racist terms and overly graphic description. There’s getting into the mind of the character and then there’s The Slap. After page five it’s incredibly tedious.
The novel moves away from the slap pretty quickly, using it as a catalyst to expose deeper issues in their lives – infidelity, dissolution, love, hate, lies and truths. The Slap is exhausting and fascinating, bitter and hopeful at the same time and is a great Aussie novel.