08 August 2011

The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas


Thoughts and Reflections
This book wasn’t especially enjoyable to read, but it was interesting. The language was crude and the characters were anything but likable. However, the book presented an interesting depiction of contemporary life in Australia, particularly of middle age life. 

This book tells the story of eight characters who witnessed a four year old boy being hit by an adult at a barbeque. The book goes on to describe the lives of the characters involved, their reaction to the incident, the aftermath, and life ongoing. The purpose of the novel is not to cast judgement on the incident, but to examine the lives of the characters.

I found I liked some of the characters when they were represented through the story of another characters, but mostly did not like the characters through their own eyes. Ultimately, none of the characters were likeable. I suppose this was the intention of the author, to show the reality of what people are. Each character tends to act out of selfish desire and personal need at any given moment.


The characters are largely middle-aged people from the middle class. Every character expressed fatigue with their life, their children, their spouse, their home life, their work, their sex life. These moments seem a natural part of life. However, the author's depiction of this period of life was anything but pleasant. Honestly, the author paints a very grim picture. Although an exploration of middle class life can be an interesting pursuit, this novel didn't take a very interesting point of view on this period of life. The characters seemed to experience this time of life in an identical fashion and with equal passivity, equally using drugs and sex to avoid feelings of restlessness or discontent. There was no variance in how people may potentially respond to middle age.

The book discusses racism. Consistent with the current discourse on racism, the author depicts racism as cyclical. The elderly immigrant couple hates that their son married a woman from India. The middle class, white Australian woman mistrusts the Aboriginal character. The Aboriginal character wants nothing to do with the poor Australian family. Jokes about immigrants are plentiful in the novel. The author successfully tosses out racist language and ideas, but the author's stance on racism is unclear.


The nonchalant use of drugs among nearly every character, being teenager or responsible adult, was disconcerting. I am aware that drugs are not uncommon among all ages. However, the representation of drug use seemed overdone. Every character in this book willingly accepted casual drug use, drugs from marijuana to speed and cocaine. Furthermore, sex is depicted as violent and entirely self-serving, never as an act of love. The situations and depictions did not vary per character. Each character acted similarly, in drug use, attitude, and sexual preference. Each character seems to have a similar voice, not unique one from the next. I thought perhaps the characters might be more convincing if each section was written in first person. However, even in first person the homogeneity of the character may still have persisted.   

Ultimately, I did not enjoy this novel and feel that the author’s depiction of people to be overly pessimistic. I do believe that people are able to act altruistically or, at the very least, more logical and rational than the characters in the novel. The depictions of sex and drug use seems  over and above a realistic situation. However, the novel portrayed a particular point of view of society. I don't believe this depiction to be entirely true, but it did make some interesting points and identify some trends in contemporary society.


About the Author
Christos Tsiolkas was born in 1965 in Melbourne, Australia. He attended the University of Melbourne, completing a degree in Arts in 1987. He published his first novel in 1995. In 2006 he won The Age Book of the Year Award for Dead Europe and in 2010 he won the Commonwealth Writers Prize for The Slap. 





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