Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Review: The Slap

The Slap
By Christos Tsiolkas
Penguin 2008
482 pages
From the library

The Slap: A Novel

The Slap is the story of a group of friends whose lives are altered by a single summer barbeque. Hector and Aisha hold a party for their friends and family. When little Hugo’s temper gets out of hand, Hector’s cousin Harry slaps the child. Gary and Rosie, Hugo’s furious parents, charge him with assault. The relationships between friends, family, and spouses are forever altered.

This novel is divided into eight chapters, and each one is told from the point of view of a different character. This was an unexpectedly successful approach. While I was initially worried that it would be confusing and sudden, author Christos Tsiolkas gave each character a good story arc so that the reader felt a sense of closure when each character’s chapter was done. Tsiolkas brings a variety of characters to life on these pages, from an elderly man confronting his mortality to teenagers having their first serious relationships.

That being said, the word to best describe this novel is gratuitous. To me, it seemed extremely unrealistic for so many people to casually do drugs and have affairs so often. I know that people do drugs. When a group of teenagers shoot up before a concert, I moved right along. When one of the fathers is doing speed in the bathroom during the barbeque, I found it a bit less authentic. And of course, I know it to be true that people have sex, both within a marriage and with people they barely know. However, to have almost every character with both their spouse and then a lover within fifty pages just seemed like overkill. It seemed inauthentic and forced.

The biggest problem in this novel is the complete lack of maturity in any of the adult characters. Aisha eventually has a major revelation about her husband. “He was a child. He was a child every time he did not get his own way.” This seems to be true for practically every character we meet in this book. None of them have any concept of how adult relationships work, of putting your child's or partner’s needs over your own, of compromising with others, or of having a civil response when things do not go their way. Again, while I could certainly understand this in some characters, witnessing this childishness in all of the so-called adult characters became annoying rather quickly.

The Slap is a well-written book. Mr. Tsiolkas deftly brings you inside the minds of many different characters, each dealing with problems large and small. Some, such as teenage Richie and elderly Manolis, will truly make you feel for them and their situations. Unfortunately the majority of characters are whiny, self-centered, and obsessed with sex. This novel takes a very hard look at the dark realities of relationships, the things that change them forever, and the ways that they endure. 


  1. I bought this so long ago and just haven't gotten around to reading it. Your review makes me think that I probably should just go ahead and trade it in. I feel like I've encountered many novels that are similar recently. The affairs and the drugs just don't seem artistic, but trite. It's like..ok, so you basically just remade most of the shows on television on at the moment, with a central action holding it together. And if this "slap" is the issue that's being questioned, how are these people not questioning other aspects of their own behavior!? That being said, it's a novel, but I appreciate the heads up.

    1. I think you are exactly right. It just felt repetitive. I found myself going, "Ok, here is another sex scene. What does this add to the story? Not much." And then for a novel that was seemingly about what is means to be a good parent or in a good relationship, there was nowhere near as much introspection as I had hoped to see.

      Tsiolkas is apparently a huge author in Australia, so I'm glad I read something of his, but I don't think I will be picking up anything else.

  2. It's a shame the characters didn't quite work as I think the issue of whether we should discipline other people's children and how is very interesting. As a teacher I constantly have to restrain myself from telling kids off utside of work!

    And all the sex and drugs does sound a bit gratuitious.

    1. I agree - that's what piqued my interest in the first place! But instead of a discussion of parenting and discipline, it's a book full of parents acting like children. The slap and the children themselves are incidental.

  3. I quite fancied this book too when it first came out, as it sounds like such an interesting premise. However, most of the reviews I've read have agreed with you that it's filled with vile characters and that the moral dilemma isn't explored enough. Sounds like a wasted opportunity.

    1. Exactly! I wanted more...and then so much less of some other things.