Thursday, 28 June 2012

Aussie Writing Review: The Slap

Okay okay, so not strictly a Western Australian book, so lying around reading it since Monday night hasn't been a particularly productive use of my time... but I picked this one up at Big W for about 15 bucks and it's been sitting on the shelf staring at me for simply yonks.  Plus, a lot of the characters moved from Perth so it's not a massive stretch of the imagination to link it to my studies...  ahem.

The Slap won tonnes of awards.  It's about 550 pages long, and it took me less than three complete days to finish.  I couldn't stop reading it, and when I had to, I thought about it.  (In fact, I think I bored History Boy by discussing it on the way to our date on Tuesday night.)  I first came across it when my Uncle's partner was reading it for Book Club but that would have been years ago.  Probably first year uni.  One of my English teachers absolutely RAVED about it.  Three and a bit years later, I'm reading it.

The novel begins with a barbecue- a typical Australian activity and one reminiscent of childhood events where I was dragged to a friend of one of my parents and forced to play with children I barely knew.  (Funnily enough I would always start off feeling like this and by the end I was always chummy as with the kids and didn't want to go... only to repeat it all again next time.)  The hosts, Hector and Aisha (and I don't know whether it should be pronounced Ay-eesha or Eyesha) have invited the entire population of Melbourne it seems.  Hector's big Greek family, including parents Manolis and Koula, his cousin Harry and his family are there.  Aisha's closest friends Anouk and Rosie, as well as Rosie's drunk husband Gary and her brattified child Hugo.  Aisha's workmates and their families.  Hector's friends including an Aboriginal man who has converted to Islam.  Tsiolkas paints a vivid and somewhat overpopulated portrait of the suburban barbecue.

Then, the event happens.  Hugo, a spoilt and coddled child, has been causing problems all evening.  During a game of cricket, the four year old begins to lose badly and muck up the game.  Harry's son Rocco, attempting to rectify the situation, goes to the boy and Hugo raises the bat.  Harry moves.  He slaps the boy, even though it is not his own son, and Hugo's mother Rosie flies off the handle and threatens to call the police.

The event has side effects which continue to play havoc in the main players' lives for the next year and beyond.

It's easy to see why this book won so many awards.  It is well written, simple and yet prescient.  Tsiolkas proves that he understands the way the mind of the Australian surburbanite works.  Even if he is just showcasing the sexual preoccupation of most adults and teenagers.  And if every five seconds they're all popping pills and doing weed and drinking too much.  (I mean, come on, can't there be just one character who doesn't want to abuse substances as a reaction to stress???  Do they all have to be smokers or ex-smokers???)  The book is apt and modern, and not populated with upper middle class white parents- instead the cast of players come from varied multicultural, religious, class and moral backgrounds.    At times, it seemed like the whole of Melbourne was Greek... but then again, I've heard a large part of it actually is.

So how do these less than stereotypical characters deal with the central issue of the novel- Was it okay for Harry to discipline Hugo?- you'll just have to read it and find out.

I give this book five out of five snags on the barbie.

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