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Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Book Review - The Slap (Christos Tsiolkas)

Set in the inner suburbs of Melbourne, The Slap is a brutally honest depiction of what really goes on behind closed doors in the 'burbs. It tells of the jealousy, infidelity, regret, uncertainty, violence, sex and drugs that permeates the lives of the eight characters used to tell the story.

The book begins with a bbq, and a slap administered to a child by a man who wasn't his father, and then meanders through the lives and opinions of eight of the people present at the bbq, briefly touching on each person's life, while discussing how they viewed the "incident".

I find the plot to be very weak, and I don't like the fact that this book doesn't have movement. It goes nowhere. It's stagnant, as all the characters revolve around one event that really isn't even that interesting to begin with. I get slightly put off at the start, when I'm introduced to a barrage of characters at the bbq- too many to keep tabs on- so after the first few I kind of tune out. This poses problems later in the book, when I reach a chapter of a character I'm not familiar with, and have to refer back to the bbq to refresh my memory.

The story begins from Hector's point of view, and proceeds to meander through another seven of the people that were present on the night: Anouk (Aisha and Rosie's friend), Harry (the "villain" in question), Connie (17, I assume, and works with Aisha at the vet clinic), Rosie (mother if Hugo, the "victim"), Manolis (Hector's father, Harry's Uncle), Aisha, and Richie (17 yo gay friend of Connie's). It is based on the slap that Harry administered Hugo, and its consequences. There are around 20 people at the bbq that witness it, and everyone has different opinions on whether it was wrong and Harry should be charged, or whether Hugo, being the spoilt, undisciplined brat that he is, was actually well over-due for such slappings. Ultimately Harry is taken to court by Rosie and Gary, but the outcome, in the scheme of the story, is neither here nor there.

In every chapter you will find sex, drugs, and plenty of 'c' bombs. I have never read so many 'c' bombs in one place. I'm not a prude, but still by the end of the book I couldn't help recoiling every time I read the word. Anyway.To me, the book really goes nowhere. It briefly touches on the eight main characters lives, and even more briefly on what their opinions of the slap and how it affects them as families and individuals. But there's no beginning and no end. It just sort of...remains stagnant. There's no climax. I know not all books have climaxes, but I really prefer ones that do.

There's only one character I can really form any sort of relationship with and that's Connie, the 17 year old girl. Maybe it's because I was once a teenager like her, and I remember it clearly, and yearn for it often. But she's the only one in the whole book who doesn't annoy me, doesn't irk me, and doesn't make me feel like grabbing them by the shoulders and shaking them. It's also probably because she's the least cynical and jaded of them all, and the most level-headed and grounded.

One thing I will give Tsiolkas is that he has a great talent at getting inside the minds of the characters. In particular, I was impressed with his depiction of the two teenagers, Connie, and her gay friend Richie. Assuming he's never been a teenage girl himself, Tsiolkas's portrayal of the way Connie thinks of herself and the world around her is spot on. He has captured the self-consciousness, insecurity and naivety with perfection, and it really struck a chord with me and how I remember my adolescence.

Tsiolkas is undoubtedly a brilliant writer. His style is cohesive and easy to read, the narrative colourful. It's just the plot that I don't like. I feel he could have done so much more with it, and felt quite disappointed when I reached the end, a disappointment I knew was imminent only a few chapters in. I finished it because I wanted to see how it "ended" but somehow I knew once I got through the first two character's chapters that it wasn't going to "end" as such. There's no conclusion and I received no sense of satisfaction once I closed the book, as I do with most other books I've read.

Apparently the book will be reviewed on The First Tuesday Book Club (ABC) next month, so I will be interested to see what they have to say about the book.

1 comment:

Melinda said...

I just read the book and am still making up my mind. I agree with you about the meandering plot, and the irritating 'c' bombs that permeated throughout! I did like the power of some of the characters - especially the two alpha males and Connie. The others I found more insipid and in particular I thought the last narrative (Richie) was anticlimactic.

Thanks for the review.

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