The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas

Having sat on my to-read shelf for years, I took this on a plane trip recently. I expected to leave it abandoned in my seat pocket for another person. Instead I found it hard to put down.

The premise of the story would never happen in reality – at a party of adult friends and their children, Hugo, a four year old, goes to wack another child with a cricket bat and the father of the target stops this happening by slapping Hugo on the face. The parents of Hugo insist on police involvement and the police take it to court. Because there is so little crime in Australia, that this stands out as a good use of police time and court resources. Not. It just wouldn’t happen.

But let’s pretend it could, because it makes for a great story, as the relations between the various adults are tested by the way in which Hugo’s parents behave and expectations by all concerned. A story gripping enough that not only was an Australian TV series made, but the US made its own – I’m almost curious to see what they did to it. Every main character in the story is ghastly. I’m truly impressed with the author’s ability to make such a readable story out of such shits as they all are. Young and old, they are all materialists whose high points are buying clothes, getting haircuts, drinking and drugging, getting bikini waxes and making entrances. The women are ghastly, the men, the Australians, the Indians, the Greeks, the young, the old. But having said that, the fact is that they are all utterly ordinary. People muddling through life in a self-centered – I, closely followed by my family, are what matters – way.

Tsiolkas is no great prose stylist. Why does he split his infinitives I wonder? Why does his editor let him? But it doesn’t matter. Mostly it is his characters speaking and their voices are all believable. The structural gimmick used – successfully, it might be added – is to unfold the story line through each character’s perspective. My friend Peter on GR wanted it to end with Aisha and I see the logic of that.  I recommend his review. But I can’t help admiring Tsiolkas’ ability to squeeze out of this fuckup of a story the hint of a happy ending, and this is done by ending with one of the teenagers. I said every character is ghastly, but in truth Richie was almost likeable and the nearest thing to a person for whom one wishes the best.

The story is very Australian, and very Greek. It all rings totally true. Looking at reviews on GR, I’m fascinated to see that non-Australians can’t cope with the book at all, whereas Australians love it. As they should.

 

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