I met Christos years ago while studying the Professional Writing and Editing course at RMIT in Melbourne. It was a very brief chat while I waited to introduce him as a guest reader at La Mama, but he was incredibly supportive of new and emerging writers and so unassuming.
I’d heard about The Slap on the Melbourne-London grapevine: friends were Twittering about it and others were castigating the novel on their Facebook pages, saying it was “self-indulgent” and ”stereotyped”…; that it contained “appalling depictions of women”- oh it got ruder than that. Of course I had to read something that provoked such vitriol and having loved Loaded, I persuaded a good friend of mine to bring Tsiolkas’s newest novel back from Oz*. (Thank God for jetsetter friends!)
The book tells of the fallout of a man slapping a child who is unrelated to him at a suburban Melbourne BBQ . It’s a fantastic ‘what if’ scenario for a writer but I wonder if Tsiolkas was slightly over-ambitious telling this from eight points of view. Hector is hosting the BBQ with his wife, Aisha; the ‘slapper’ if you like is Hector’s cousin, Harry. When you add in the element of the younger 20-something generation present at the BBQ (some of the novel’s richest material in the characters of Connie and Richie) and consider that one of them is having an affair with Hector, things get interesting and messy and interesting again-even without the slap and its ramifications. Rosie is the slapped child’s mother, an earth mother-type still breastfeeding her four-year old boy. One of her oldest friends is Anouk, an early 40s TV scriptwriter who is caught between the reactions of Aisha and Rosie. Manolis is Hector’s father and his story adds a fresh layer from the older generation, in this case a late 60s Greek-Australian man looking back over all the long years and wondering. His depiction is moving and thought-provoking. Unfortunately Anouk’s characterisation is the weakest for me and yes perhaps does verge on the ‘career woman’ stereotype, but I can forgive because this novel is still raw, angry and utterly compelling.
Loaded was about sex and drugs and music. The sex in his latest novel is at times soft porn (as a friend pointed out, none of the characters make love) but the (adolescent) drug-taking doesn’t take the preachy soap opera line, it merely adds an element for example to an already joyous day for the young characters in the final chapter.
I’m not a mother so perhaps if I were this novel would rile me too. I do think it is rare to find writing that is so passionate and so persistent- even having finished it several weeks ago. Tsiolkas said at the recent Melbourne Writers’ Festival that The Slap‘s largely unlikeable characters were products of the Howard era and who can argue? Yes perhaps he goes a bit too far with the insights into the darker thoughts of his characters but he dares to bring them, and thus our own cruelties and prejudices, to light and I for one, can’t argue with that.
*For UK readers, according to Amazon, The Slap is scheduled for release by Penguin UK in March 2010
Many thanks to AG for bringing this back from Oz for me to review.