Posted by: Ele Quigan | August 27, 2010

‘The Slap’ Christos Tsiolkas

Everyone loves a good controversy – and one that pitches one literary snob against the next was always going to get a few column inches in the various dailies over here…

‘The Slap’ has polarised people, some thinking it’s a fantastic novel – some thinking it’s a piece of chauvinist, misogynistic bullshit.

I’m in the latter camp.

Yada yada yada you’ve probably know the premise – BBQ in suburban Melbourne, child gets slapped by a man who is not the child’s parent and all hell breaks loose.

But it’s not really about that at all. It’s more of a treatise on the Australian middle classes, their prides, their prejudices, trying to bring this to the forefront.

So who are the characters? There’s the ‘Greek family’ -older parents, two sons, one (Hector) has an Indian wife (Aisha) which has mortally offended the matriarch, ‘The Liberals’ – an alcoholic painter, and his flighty naturalist wife (Rosie, Aisha’s best friend) who refuses to stop breastfeeding her son at age 4, the associated friends and hangers that make up this story.

It’s a series of interconnected pieces written from the point of view of separate characters. One of the greek relatives (Harry, Hector’s cousin) who is the ‘Slap-er’ is one of the most misogynistic characters I have come across in modern literature.

The guardian says it best:

Harry is a bigoted, extraordinarily unattractive figure for whom women are sexual objects (his preferred term for them is “whores”) and who cares about little besides filling his home with plasma-screen TVs.

Everything about this character (and some of their others) repulses me. His attitude towards women, their attitudes towards people of other races – is this really how people think in Australia? I guess so.

Their portrayal of the liberal couple – that liberalism is a front for some kind of deep seeded jealousy of not having what others have, feels outdated, unfounded and arrogant to a point. Or is that the conservative view on what (us) liberals are really like?

I think the most offensive part within the novel was the potential split up of Aisha and Hector. Aisha’s main decision is focussed on how good they look together. Yes a successful woman, a vet, who runs her own practice, decides to stay with her husband because of how they look.

“She couldn’t leave him because her love was bound up with his beauty – she loved being next to him, adored being the most attractive couple in the room, couldn’t let that go.”

Ridiculous.

The book was peppered with more sex and swearing than I’ve seen in a novel for a long time – becoming a detrimental sideline to every single story. I don’t really CARE for every couples sex story, I don’t want to know the when’s and how’s and definitely not what it looks like. I don’t want to hear C*NT in every second sentence, nor F*ck. One or two for extra emphasis – but that often? Ugh.

I think I can understand what the author was trying to do – share an insight of what these horrible Australians are really like behind their Olympic gold medal success enabling Brits to look on from their lofty heights of ‘We’re not like that’ (it’s been very successful here in the UK).

However looking at the prevalence of BNP, concerns about football hooliganism even still – is the British middle class even better?

Or even the New Zealand middle class for that matter?

Maybe this book is more of a trueism than I want to give it credit for, and deserves its place in the booker list for offering a snapshot into how the middle classes really think, and to snap us into the reality of life now – where our concerns aren’t about our next meal but affording the next TV, looking good, worrying about ageing, and feeling more impassioned about how other people see our place in the world and our own sense of status than anything else.

Still didn’t stop me hating it however…

Further reviews and comments
Reviews

http://andplotthickens.wordpress.com/2010/02/08/the-slap-christos-tsiolkas/
The Guardian
The Independent

Commentary
Why is this book so damn successful?
Interview with the author

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