‘The Slap’ by Christos Tsiolkas

The Slap has an interesting premise. A man slaps a child who is not his own at a barbecue.  The author then examines the repercussions of this event through the eyes of eight different people who were there. Believing that the author would really do something with this interesting set up and also because it was a book club assignment for me, I kept reading. Were it not for those two driving forces, I do not believe I would have finished it.

There is a lot of unnecessary crude language, explicit mature content, and racism in this book. Had these things been justified by exemplary literary style or had I been convinced that the people in the book would actually behave and talk this way, I would have tolerated those aspects of the book, but to me the story did not really take me anywhere or teach me anything important, nor did the author make me care much about the characters. Is this a realistic portrayal of Greeks in Australia and how do they feel about it? Nevertheless a story can be enjoyed for just being that –  a  story – and that is what those who love the book have said and they are right.

The book has achieved a tremendous following and was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize.  There are many who love it, including two members of our book club. So it probably is just a matter of taste. What the author does do that is amazing, is take on a myriad of social issues all in the same story (teenage sexuality, abortion, Muslim conversion, swearing, racism, child rearing, same-sex orientation, breastfeeding, assault, child abuse, alcoholism, drugs, family , suicide, parenting, marriage, infidelity, multiculturalism) whew!,  making it for me, seem almost like a social caricature.

Wikipedia called it “a controversial and daring novel” which examines “identities and personal relationships in a multicultural society” and “taps into universal tensions and dilemmas around family life and child-rearing.” Incidentally, the act of slapping a child is not even illegal in Australia, making the book’s court case and charges,  as well as the initial premise, false from the beginning.

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