I’m beginning to wonder if I’m a bit shallow. I don’t seem to like books that are gaining great literary reputations. Like this one. The Slap has been compared to Jonathan Franzen’s ‘The Corrections’ and Don deLillo’s ‘Underworld’. I’ve only read the former, but you know what I thought of that and how I had to stop reading it half-way (to be honest, a quarter of the way). I did finish The Slap, but I was left with a bitter taste in my mouth, unsatisfied and somewhat queasy.
I had been wanting to read it, as the subject interested me. A man slaps an unruly three-year-old boy, who is not his own son, across the cheek. There’s something provocative in that, isn’t there? Some people hit their children, some think it’s the worst thing ever. Do you discipline other people’s children when they are at your house? Would you ever slap another person’s child, let alone your own child?
Christos Tsiolkas presents this random act of violence through eight different characters’ eyes, all of whom witnessed the event. As it says on the back of the book, “The result is an unflinching interrogation of the modern family, a deeply thought-provoking novel of boundaries and their limits…”
I think he’s a good writer. He depicts characters well and I could ‘see’ these characters much better than I could those in ‘Freedom’. But I found it was a forever cringing book of profanities and vulgarities and I don’t mean this in a prudish way. I just can’t believe that there are people out there who really swear as profanely as these characters do. They drink, they fuck, they take drugs and they say seem to say fuck and cunt and motherfucker as much as i say ‘and’ and ‘but’. They are never-endingly bitter and upset.
Tsiolkas delves into the minutae of Australian life and highlights the differences and hidden racism between different cultures – Aborigines, Muslims, Greeks. He shows us the drinking and sex and affairs that people are going through. In this way, I found it an easier read than ‘Freedom’ – I was more interested in these characters’ lives. But I still can’t believe they swear that much in real life. Or do I lead too protected a life?
I couldn’t stand some of the characters, I wanted to throw something in their faces, like my glass of wine or bowl of spaghetti. Maybe that’s a sign of the power of his writing. The little boy who gets slapped, Hugo, is the most irritating, spoilt, indulged child who is still breast-fed when he’s four. Tsiolkas depicts him and his mother so well. They are nauseating, but that is what they would be in real life. Do men think about sex the whole time? They seem to in this book.
Because of the endless harshness of drugs, drinking, sex and swearing, I found this book to be heavy work. It was brutal. I kept thinking, ‘Okay, that’s enough now, just get on with the story’, but it never stopped as these elements obviously were integral parts of the characters’ lives.
I kept reading, as I wanted to know what happened in the end, but I was irritated by the time I finished the book. It bothered me, like a mosquito buzzing in my ear at night. I didn’t like the characters and I was upset to think that maybe that is what life is really about, the bitterness and dissatisfaction, the secret dislikes people have for each other. Please not.