‘The Slap’ is a slap to certain certainties
Christos Tsiolkas’s The Slap was published in Australia in 2008. After winning the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize in 2009, it came out in the UK this year (and, is, therefore, now available in India, too). It has made it to the Man Booker longlist, selling thousands of copies and has turned into the most talked about and divisive novel vying for this year’s award.
On its back cover, Colm Toibin calls it a “novel of immense power and scope, reminiscent of Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections and Don DeLillo’s Underworld”. I am a great admirer of Toibin’s writing (a pity that his latest novel, Brooklyn, was passed over for the Man Booker) but The Slap is not even remotely reminiscent of The Corrections or Underworld, two of the most defining contemporary American novels.
The prose in The Slap is too lazy (two items of food, in the same paragraph, are described as ‘juicy’; too many redundant adverbs; clichés fill its many pages) for it to be compared to great literary novels. The characters are often too thinly drawn (the men, particularly, are nearly all misogynists and racists). And, as this review shows, the sex scenes are bad enough for it to be a leading contender for the Bad Sex Awards.
But The Slap has its own compelling allure. It uses as a trigger the incident of a man at a Melbourne barbeque lunch slapping a bratty child who is not his own, and then examines how that one incident colours and alters the lives of all those present at that party.
Really, though, the novel nails the myth of the great Australian dream, the country’s multicultural multiethnic society, and values and attitudes that seem to be defining post-John-Howard Australia. Finely structured, well paced, and with a superb knack for building suspense and tension, The Slap is a novel that daringly, unabashedly portrays flawed characters and audaciously poses the questions to its readers on almost every page: So whose side are you on? What is right? How far can one go?
It is riveting stuff, and hugely entertaining. Tsiolkas drives one hell of a plot. Each night, as I closed the novel, I could not wait to get started on it the day after.
The only way to make up your mind about it is to read it yourself.
Here is an interview with Tsiolkas.
And here is a review of the novel.