Monday, 3 August 2009

The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas

On Tuesday 28 July, 7 Minervans met to discuss Christos Tsiolkas controverial book The Slap. Winner of the Commonwealth Writers Prize, we all agreed it was a can't put down read, that had engaged us all. There was a lot of discussion of the Greek Australian culture that formed the background for a number of characters, and the role of males within this culture. There was some discussion about the representation of a certain middle-class Australia: the aspirational Australians. There was a very strong representation of consumerism, and the material ascendancy of this second generation of characters.

We all admitted to finding a lot of the characters rather unpleasant, but nonetheless very empathic. It was the younger characters we felt were drawn the most successfully, but who also found themselves reacting to events around them, and caught up in the manipulations of others.
Tsiolkas managed to give all the characters a convincing voice, and to get inside their heads.There was a sense that all characters were portrayed as vulnerable, with the contradiction between their thoughts and deeds highlighted by the author. Different group members had favourite characters, from the tragic Rosie to the attractive and flawed Hugo, and the wicked Hector.

It was a fascinating structure to present the narrative from different perspectives, and to move the story along in a dynamic way, that retained suspense, and continuity.

The regular drug-taking and 'male-oriented' sex was also commented on. The representation of the abuse of power was very realistic and quite chilling in places.

The group discussed the slap or child punishment very little, seeing the book as much more about the relationships, power struggles and family stresses that were revealed as a reult of the incidence. There was also a comment that the book was not 'documentary realism', but more a series of incidences told in a sort of heightened realism to emphasise the drama, and implications of the actions of the characters. There were comments that some of the writing was somewhat melodramatic, and slightly 'TV soap script' in style, but most did not find this off-putting.

A book rich in discussion topics, and somewhat confronting in its depiction of aspects of Australian society. Well worth reading.


Sue T said...

Well done Kate - on getting into this AND on your well-written post ... I can hand over the mantle now. Sounds like a great discussion. I'll think a bit more and when I get back post a little on my thoughts but I don't think I'll be adding anything significant to what you've all discussed.

Sue T said...

OK, I said I'd make some comments given that I wasn't at the meeting, so here they are.

One of the things I thought the book was about was how pervasive violence is in western middle class society. Through the various characters’ stories we see a wide range of violent behaviour: domestic violence, consensual sex that's rather aggressive, and those seemingly casual expressions of violence such as “I wanted to kill her” about a person who annoys. We also see I think a deeply ingrained prejudice against “other”, whether that other be racial, religious, cultural, sexual orientation or socioeconomic. I has a strong feeling that in Tsiolkas’ world only a thin veneer of civility covers our more primitive selves and that we readers are never quite sure when or whether these selves will break through and wreak havoc. It is to the credit of the characters, and by extension us, that they rarely do, but we are left in no illusion that they could.

Wallace Stegner, an American writer I really like, wrote in his book, Angle of repose, that “Civilizations grow by agreements and accommodations and accretions, not by repudiations”. This, taken at a more personal level, seems to be the point of the novel for as Aisha says in the second last chapter, “This finally was love … Love, at its core, was negotiation, the surrender of two individuals to the messy, banal, domestic realities of sharing a life together. In this way, in love, she could secure a familiar happiness”. I thought that maybe this sense of compromising, of getting along with each other, was a theme of the novel.