It's been quite a while since I read an adult book, and it's been a refreshing change. Even though this is quite an adult book. This was THE book of 2009. As perhaps the last person in Australia to read it, I finally succumbed to the pressure in the week leading up to the airing of the miniseries on TV. I naturally, wanted to watch it, but had to read the book first. Of course I'd left it so long that I was then forced to buy the TV tie-in copy instead of the proper cover. I hate that. I want to imagine the characters as I see them, not the actors playing it out on screen. And then I didn't finish in time to watch the first episode before I'd finished reading. Another quandry. In the end I decided to plow on and finish the book before I started with the mini-series. Interestingly this edition has three pages of "Praise for The Slap" at the front, and an extra two pages at the back. I don't know that it needs that for readership, but there it is.
This book literally was everywhere in 2009. It won the Commonwealth Writers Prize, and the Vance Palmer Prize for Fiction in the Victorian Premier's Literary Awards. It was shortlisted for the Miles Franklin (beaten by Tim Winton's Breath), and longlisted for the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. They talked about it on the First Tuesday Book Club. On the Bookshow on Radio National (where the reviewer wonders if Tsiolkas has mellowed as The Slap isn't nearly as raw and confrontational as his previous works! WOW. They must be something. This is a great 5 minute audio review actually). And it was lauded and discussed in just about every paper, magazine and on every scrap of paper.
Still, even though it's been so talked about I wasn't quite sure what to expect. Yes, everyone knows by now I'm sure that it involves a child who is slapped by a man, not his father, at a backyard barbeque in suburban Melbourne during the later years of John Howard's Australia. It is however, much more than that. The actual slap is quite near the beginning of the book, and the book is more about the year following the slap. The events the slap unleashes and the strains it puts on the rather complex relationships between the characters. Cleverly told in 8 sections, each narrated by a different character who was present at the barbeque and involved in the narrative in various ways.
There are of course many more than 8 characters, and initially I found the first chapter a bit confusing. Who was related to who, where everyone fitted in. Much like when the hordes descend at a real barbie I guess. This soon sorted itself out. Perhaps the most shocking thing is the insight into each character's head. As many have said, the vast majority of the characters are flawed, and well, particularly obnoxious and rather awful. I felt very uncomfortable being inside their thoughts. They are vulgar and profane on many levels. Is this really what it's like in other people's heads? I hope not, because it's very, very awful.
Tsiolkas does broach many subjects as well as the debate about whether anyone has the right to slap an obnoxious, awful child. He takes on private vs public schooling, Australian drinking culture, marriage, fidelity, the mores of the modern world, the role of the media. He even taught me a slang racial epithet that I didn't know that was used to depict Australians! (Skip). There is tenderness. I found Manolis' section particularly moving. And humour too.
Connie looked alarmed at that option. "I don't know anything about hats."
"It's the sad decline of civilisation. What can I say? It's okay. I don't wear them either now that I'm a hippie."One passage that really stood out for me was when the court case is held. She here is Rosie, the mother of the child who is slapped.
When they finally entered the courtroom she had to stifle her disappointment at how unimpressive it was. A lone Australian coat of arms sat above the judge's seat and already a stain of weak, lemon coloured damp was rising in a corner of the room. They took seats near the front and waited for the case to be heard.
The pettiness of people's lives, the mundane sadness of what people did, mostly for money, sometimes for love or out of boredom, but mostly for the desperate need for money, is what Rosie took away from that day. Young men- just boys really, but already with long, tedious prior convictions read out by equally young, bored coppers in hesitant monotonous tones- faced the dock for stealing toys, stealing radios, stealing iPods, stealing televisions, stealing handbags, stealing work tools, stealing food, stealing liquor. There were young mothers ripping off the dole, young girls shoplifting trinkets and mascara and DVDs and CDs and Barbie dolls for their kids.
I'm glad that I finally read got around to reading The Slap. It's very uncomfortable reading for much of it, but does have a lot to say about how we live now (which I have just realised is Helen Garner's blurb on the front cover). I hadn't read any of Tsiolkas's work before, and perhaps this was a good place to start. . I'll be interested to read more of it. And now I have television series to look forward to. If I could get near a screen this weekend, what with Dr Who finales then a Series 6 marathon, car racing and endless games of World Cup Rugby, then I could watch the first episode.