The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas

The Slap by Christos TsiolkasI had heard of The Slap (2008) a few months before I bought it this summer. As with many books, it stayed on the shelf until there was a good reason to read it: my real-life book group discussed this book yesterday.

The story takes place in Australia, which I like, as I don’t read many books by Australian authors.

The Slap: What it is about

The Slap is the story of several interconnected people (one large chapter each), who are all present at a barbecue party where Harry, a cousin of the host, Hector, hits the 4-year son of friends of Hector and his wife Aisha.

The boy, Hugo, had been disruptive all afternoon and several people, such as Hector, believe the boy deserved a slap, especially as Harry was trying to prevent Hugo from hitting his son with a baseball bat. Others think that hitting a child is never excusable.

In the first chapter, where Hector is the main character, the slap actually happens, and the subsequent chapters cover the next few months and follow several of the guests that witnessed the slap.

The book is not just about the slap and maybe the slap isn’t even the main issue. The story is much more about loyalties between husband and wife and between friends, choosing between supporting your best friend and your husband.

The Slap: What I thought

This book was very readable and I was never bored. The story was interesting and dealt with much more than just that slap. Each of the people featured had something interesting about them and they often had other issues that took up more of their time (and the reader’s) than the slap.

I did question the focus on some of the people that seemed not to play a prominent role in the story. For instance, Anouk, the t.v. writer, seemed not to add much to the story and was hardly mentioned later on. Richie, in the final chapter, seemed irrelevant but did eventually “carry” quite a bit of the story.

What amazed me was that more or less all the main characters took recreational drugs at some point(s) in their story. Both my friend, who also read the book, and I found this mind-boggling! We’re both from the Netherlands, but no, I don’t know that many people who use drugs. In fact, I think I know hardly any at all!

So, is it the writer of this book that seems to think that most people take drugs? Is it not that he thinks so but did he find it necessary for the story to have people take drugs? Does the whole of Australia partake in drug use all the time? I’d love to know!

The amount of rock-and-roll was negligible but sex, yes, there was quite a bit of that, too. I think without exception, the main characters all had their moment of sexual activity, watched closely by the reader. I know people have sex, I even know people who do, and I’m sure people in Australia do it all the time, but was it really necessary to include this in every chapter? There was hardly any mention of toilet visits and I’m sure they are more frequent than the bedroom scenes.

Yes, for me drugs and sex were a little too prominent in this book. If there was a reason for it, then fine, but I don’t think there was.

For the rest, a great book. And I’m still on the fence about the slap: should you never hit a child or was it warranted in this particular case?

The Slap: What my book group thought

Yesterday, we discussed this book in my real-life book group. There were eight of us, seven had read the book. The ratings for this book ranged from 6/10 to about 8/10. Some didn’t enjoy the book a lot but a few did.

They agreed with me about the amount of sex and drugs that seemed excessive, and someone wondered what Anouk’s role was in the book. I thought her role might have been that she presented a different opinion than Aisha but still from a female point of view.

We didn’t think the slap was warranted, we ourselves would not have slapped. However, we would have pulled the boy’s arm or taken some other physical action to stop the boy from hitting our own son. If the boy who was slapped had been our son, we would definitely not have pressed charges but we would have had a “good” conversation with the slapper.

Someone else found that there was a lot of mention of DVDs: they were watched several times in the book, and there was even a DVD man that came by doing a kind-of Tupperware party.

And we were shocked by the amount of racism in the book. It seemed that every cultural group had (strong) prejudices against the other groups.

We found that the author did a good job including so many different themes in the book: child-rearing, adultery, drug use, abortion, racism, etc. Even though the book was packed with all these themes and events (if you think about it, a lot happened to at least some of the people, or had happened in their past), while we were reading it, we didn’t find it excessive. Only when you started listing all the events afterwards, it seemed like a lot.

Most people in the book group had no interest in reading another book by this author.

Rating: 4.5/5

I got this book: bought it from Waterstone’s book shop in England

I read this in: English, the original language

Number of pages: 483

First published: 2008

Genre: contemporary literary fiction

About Leeswammes
I'm owner and editor at bookhelpline.com. In my free time, I read and review books on my two blogs, Leeswammes' Blog and De Boekblogger.

28 Responses to The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas

  1. Great review, Judith. I have ummed and ahhed about this book as I have heard really mixed reviews about it.

    I have to be honest and say that the main reason I am not sure I want to read it is because of all the drugs and sex. I, too, don’t know anyone who takes drugs and with it not being a part of my life, I always find it strange and a bit shocking when I read about people where it seems to be a major part of thier life. I’m not sure that I want to read about that – does that make me a prude?

    I am curious about this book but I still have the same reservations as before. Do you recommend that I give it a go or not?

    • leeswammes says:

      Oh, Boof! Do I recommend this book? What a difficult question. But: I did like the book a lot, i.e., the overall reading experience was good, so I’m going to say “yes”. Just be aware it’s a book mainly about relationships between people and loyalty, the slap itself is secondary to most of the story.

      As far as prudes are concerned: I’m the biggest one of them all, so if I can handle it, I’m sure you can. 🙂

  2. I have been wanting to read this book ever since it was longlisted for the Booker prize, but I haven’t read many reviews for it. I am glad to see what you thought of it.

  3. Interesting… I have never heard of this one before.

  4. Tony says:

    Here’s my review from earlier this year (I have read and reviewed all of Tsiolkas’ novels in 2010):

    http://tonysreadinglist.blogspot.com/2010/06/review-post-26-slap-happy.html

    Like you, I had some issues with the book (I though Anouk was completely superfluous too!), but people do live like this – just not us!

    By the way, ABC in Australia is making an eight-part television series based on the book, due to be aired next year – should be interesting 😉

    • leeswammes says:

      Thanks for your link, Tony. I’m going to check it out. Are you a Tsiolkas fan? I haven’t read anything else by him (yet).

      A television series should be interesting. I can imagine that would be quite good.

      • Tony says:

        I’ve liked all his books, but if you don’t really enjoy sex and drugs and mutilation, I would be wary of reading his other novels! ‘Dead Europe’ (which, I heard yesterday, is going to be made into a film) was probably my favourite of the four, but it’s also the darkest. ‘The Jesus Man’… well, it’s not for the faint-hearted 😦

      • leeswammes says:

        Hmm, thanks for explaining, Tony. I’m not sure I should try them. I did read a book or two by Palahniuk and could handle another one (maybe) so, maybe, maybe.

  5. Nadine Nys says:

    I must be a prude too, because it also bothers me when drugs and sex are too prominent in a story. So I don’t think I’m going to read this book. But I loved your review.

    • leeswammes says:

      Thanks, Nadyne. Meanwhile, I’m not even sure I want to read the other books by this author (I read Tony’s reviews on his other books -see comment above this one).

  6. I just noticed this book on the shelf at the library and yours is the first review for me. Way to go–loved what you had to say.

  7. Rachel says:

    This book made me mad… seriously. I have never been so angry when reading a book. That kid was such a brat that I am surprised no one had slapped him sooner.. not that I would hit a child (I don’t think) but his parents really needed to learn some discipline. They had created a little sooky monster.

    Not only that. I wanted to slap his mother. She was a moron. Everytime she said her kid had been ‘bashed’ I wanted to reach into the book, grab her by her dirty hippie hair and slap her silly.

    I agree that most reasonable people wouldn’t be so dumb as to press charges … sure you would have it out with the person who slapped your child… there would be strong words and you certainly wouldn’t be spending time with them again, but getting the police involved? DUMB!

    I did not like one character in this book. They were all horrible, selfish people.

    I also noticed that the author seemed to think that Greek men were gods gift to women phhhffttt dream on buddy.

    Just so everyone knows, although I am sure drug use and adultery are probably quite common… it really isn’t is common as this book makes out. At least, not that I have seen. But I live in Sydney, maybe people in Melbourne are different 😉 ha!

    • leeswammes says:

      Phew, Rachel, you did have some strong reactions against the book. I also thought the mother, Rosie, was a hopeless type and I was waiting for someone to talk some sense into her. But that didn’t really happen, although in the end she had learned at least a small lesson and didn’t want to breastfeed her son anymore.

      I guess Sydney is where people are civilized and go to the opera and all that, but in Melbourne it’s where things really happen. Apparently.:-)

      • Rachel says:

        haha 😉 the Melbournians will argue differently! Apparently Melbourne is the cultural hub of Australia… oh well, could be worse. I could live in Adelaide!

        I did have strong reactions to this book. It really bugged me… the characters were all so shallow and pathetic.. but real. I guess Tsiolkas must have done something right if he elicited such emotion… ? I wonder if he intended that.

      • leeswammes says:

        Rachel, that’s what I think about “art”: if it evokes emotions then it must be good/useful in some way.

  8. pburt says:

    I liked reading your review – it is one of the few that I have seen that states the book may not be about the slap at all.

    My review can be found here: http://pburt.wordpress.com/2010/09/07/the-slap-by-christos-tsiolkas/

    I thought it was about loyalty and ambiguity – often there is no one way or the other – we just have to muddle along.

    Glad I stumbled in here.

    • leeswammes says:

      Thanks for your comments, pburt. I agree the book was about loyalty too. I’ll check out your review, thanks for the link. It’s nice to see what other people think about a book I’ve just read.

  9. Suzanne says:

    I have this on the to-read shelf and your review has given me a lot to think about when I do read it.

    I normally don’t have a problem with sex/drugs in a novel if it is relevant to the story, but if it is thrown in “just because” then I don’t care for it.

    Nice, thoughtful review.

    • leeswammes says:

      Thanks, Suzanne. I hope you’ll enjoy the book when you get to it. No, I didn’t think the sex and drugs was relevant to the story, but while it bothered me a bit, it didn’t take away too much from my enjoyment of the book.

  10. Joanna says:

    I agree with you Judith, I don’t think the sex and drugs added anything to the storyline. I left the Greek Australian community in Melbourne years ago and can see some traces of it in the novel but all the hostility and unpleasantness just couldn’t represent the whole experience.

    One thing that I don’t think was picked up on was the fact that the ‘slap’ of course wasn’t just the casual violence against a child. The guy was violent and beat his wife and it was ultimately this underlying ugliness and abuse against the loyalties of a dense immigrant community (2nd / 3rd generation by now) that were struggling to be heard. A big part of the serious point of the novel was lost in Tsiolkas’ writing which is a shame.

    I did wonder whether the drugs and sex were more part of the gay community, Tsiolkas is openly gay, and while they describe his lifestyle, fail to represent the non-gay communities? Does that sound bigoted?

    • leeswammes says:

      Thanks for your comments, Joanna. You’re right, the man was a violent type anyway. We did talk about that in the book group but I didn’t include it in the review. It was lost a bit in the context of the rest of the novel.

      Bigoted, I don’t know. People write about what they know. For me, it’s normal that the sun comes up every day, so I would maybe mention that if I was writing a book. I wouldn’t necessarily realise there are people living in valleys where they never see the sun. 🙂

  11. shelleyrae@ Book'd Out says:

    Thanks for your review. It’s interesting see a perspective from a nonAustralian reader.
    It’s very much an exaggerated view of society hence the crude drugs/sex/language refererences, and it is deliberately provocative. I think he wrote it to make people uncomfortable, he made the private fleeting thoughts we have external actions for his characters.

    I can’t say I liked it but I appreciated it if that makes sense
    My review is here http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/106067674

    • leeswammes says:

      Shelleyrae, did you read an interview with Tsiolas? Since you say he was deliberately provocative? I didn’t realise that while I was reading the book, I was taking it at face-value and then it is a bit much.

      Thanks for the link to your review, I’ll have a look.

  12. I didn’t realise that you read it so recently! I think we had similar views on The Slap. It was an interesting read, but a bit too much sex/drugs for my liking. It is weird to think that men might actually think about sex that often!!

  13. Having heard Tsiolkas talk on a range of issues, I find him articulate and provocative, and so I was looking forward to reading this. Sadly, after all the hype, I was a little bit disappointed. I found much of the writing crude and didn’t find myself challenged in the way that I had expected to be.

    • Leeswammes says:

      Thanks for your comment, Matthew. I’d love to hear this author speak – I’m sure it would be very interesting.

      For me, the book was different from what I expected of it, too. I was amazed by the number of themes present in the book, and at my book club we had a great time discussing it.

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