I thought I was pretty much done with my reading from the 2010 Booker Prize longlist, and on the whole I have to say it was a pretty positive experience, with only one of those I read falling short of expectations. One that I really didn’t fancy reading was The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas. Something about it just didn’t appeal, and some of the reviews I’d read didn’t inspire confidence either. But being a bit of a cheapskate, when the Kindle version came up on offer at a very good price I thought what the heck, let’s give it a go.
So how did I get on with it? Were my initial suspicions correct or was it one that I was lucky not to let pass me by?
Read on for a full review…
The Slap is not going to win any prizes for “Most Uplifting Novel” that is a certainty, but I think some of the criticism it has received in reviews has been of the most shallow and unwarranted kind. More on that point later though.
The story is based on the ripples that begin with a parent slapping another family’s young child at a barbecue. Not the most momentous event you might feel, depending on your own upbringing and values, but it provides the catalyst for a set of events that allows the author to examine the lives and relationships of all those who were present.
That brings us to my reasons for saying that this is not an uplifting read; what came to mind for me was that it was almost Rohinton Mistry in reverse. Mistry, one of my favourite modern novelists, always seems to provide even the worst of his characters with a shred of good, or at least a valid underlying motive for their badness; in The Slap most of the characters have few if any redeeming features. If you think you like them as you are introduced to them, you probably won’t think much of them by the end. Most are superficially beautiful people, but are depressingly selfish and inwardly ugly when we get to know them more.
However, I think that this is where many of those critical of the book have missed the point. Tsiolkas has not created these characters by accident or through some missing link in his own character; they are actually the vehicle by which he is examining what society, both in Australia and on a wider scale, has become. Casual racism, bullying, loutishness, drugs, crime and punishment are all examined, and we are asked whether or not this is the type of society that we really want. It is I’m sure not meant to be a true reflection on society in its entirety, more a distillation of the worst elements and a possible indication of where things are heading.
So yes, I would argue that this is at times an ugly and difficult book, but it does chime with a lot of the things that I dislike about the modern world, and therefore I am thoroughly pleased that I did finally get around to reading it. If you read it and find yourself identifying with the characters, please ignore the above, I’m sure you’re a nice person really.
Already read The Slap? What did you think of it? Please post a comment below, Novel Suggestions is always keen to hear your opinions.
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