Newest Review: ... they had little to do with the most important subject matter i.e. the slap! I expected the story to focus on the reactions to the slap t... more
I read this so you don't have to
The Slap - Christos Tsiolkas
Member Name: Secre
The Slap - Christos Tsiolkas
Date: 28/02/12, updated on 28/02/12 (64 review reads)
Advantages: Very, very few
Disadvantages: Plot, characters, content
To begin with I'm going to quote directly from the back cover of the book as this will give you an idea of why this book really caught my attention even if it didn't hold it. The premise of the book is brilliant, it is just the fact that it doesn't live up to it which is disappointing. "At a suburban barbecue one afternoon. A man slaps an unruly boy. It's a single act of violence. But this even reverberates through the lives of everyone who witnesses it happen. Whose side are you on?"But in reality this only gives the first 'dramatic' part of the plot, and the ridiculous thing is that the book actually gets marginally better once the advertised 'plot has finished and it starts moving forwards. The first section of the book revolves around this slap and the direct consequences of the mans actions including the court case that follows. The supposed focus is on how this splits a group of friends down the middle as each take sides, and what had been a fairly close group of friends becomes split and relationships become strained. The female friends get more bitchy and the male group gets more aggressive. But when the book moves on it moves into the lives of not only the main group of friends which the first section of the book is based around, but also into the lives of the lesser characters. This means that it splits into many smaller, individual plots and it becomes a much better read, but it's tricky to give too much away about this without ruining the overall plot in case you ever actually want to read this. Personally I'd take my warning and stay well away.
Here is the double whammy of the book. I can cope with an poorly managed plot if the characters make up for it, but no, the characters are awful The author relies far too much on cursing and sex to actually build his characters effectively, and the creations that he has built are almost to a man unlikeable and irritating. I would have thought that the main purpose of a book like this would be to make the reader think, to engage them and as the cover actually asks, to make you pick a side. Instead you just think that they're all cretins.
The automatic thinking of many, including myself, would be to side with the child - a four year old boy named Hugo. I mean a four year old is fairly defenceless and should be fairly likable, right? Or at least cute? Wrong. Unfortunately this is impossible because he is a spoilt brat who completely and utterly deserved everything he got. If I'd have been there I'd probably have hit him long before the bloke in the story did, and I'd have probably tried to ensure that I had something heavy in my hand at the time. So then you come to the man who slapped him, and who did, in a way, have a reason considering the boy was not only an irritating cretin but was also about to hit his own child with a baseball bat. But you can't side with him either because he is a genuinely bullish, aggressive and unlikable character. He just isn't a character you can empathise with, although he does make a very good point when he says; "Your child deserved it. But I don't blame him, I blame his bogan parents".
You see the characters get no better in the slightest when you move across to Hugo's parents; in fact it might even get worse. Rose is over protective, caters to Hugo's every whim and is still breast feeding him even though he's four years old. She's completely weak willed and spineless in some ways which only makes you detest her more, but at the same time she is a manipulative, vindictive bitch who is not above using anything to get her own ends. Needless to say, you don't like her. Her husband Harry is a weak minded, aggressive alcoholic and the general impression you get is that the entire family could seriously do with a good slapping, not just the child. The friendship group around them is no better than this, particularly as it relies on stereotypical clichés and fails to add anything new; Aisha and Anouk are both two dimensional as manipulative females who act in a remarkably loose manner for absolutely no reason. And Hector, Aisha's husband, is an aggressive slob who sleeps around. Christos Tsiolkas is working on age old and largely out of date gender stereotypes, and he isn't even doing it well which is completely inexcusable.
As the book progresses Christos Tsiolkas does make an attempt to improve on this lamentably poor situation. But unfortunately it is too little, too late. It's all too sudden and completely without tact. You can't make an asshole a saint overnight particularly when you give no reason for it, and trying to just makes the writer look like an eejit. It seems unconvincing and somewhat ridiculous. The only really good characters are those who were side-characters for most of the way through the novel and didn't have a part to play when it really mattered. Hector's parents are very good examples of this; Manolis and Koula barely appear as 'real' characters until near the end of the book, but once they do Christos Tsiolkas excels with them. They end up being well-rounded characters who you can empathise with and understand. Their struggle to find old friends and to come to terms with the losses of old age is particularly striking and emotive. What Christos fails to grasp in the earlier section he gets here; with Manoli in particular he grips the reader and forces them to wwatch the pain and helplessness that Manoli finds in finding old friends both alive and dead.
To put it very plainly, you'll be hard pressed to find a page that does not contain at least one obscenity. The *F* word and the *C* word seem to be two of his favourites in particular. Now, I'm not a prude and I'm not too old fashioned. I have no objection to occasional swearing or when it is used in appropriate contexts such as a prison setting or as in my previous review; Animal's People where it is effective. But when it is littered throughout with no apparent reason or purpose other than swearing for the sake of swearing I get irritated. It is crude, it is pointless and I have to admit that I find the *C* word very offensive. But when you consider that this is set in a middle class, fairly affluent society then it just seems that Christos Tsiolkas either has no grasp of decent English or is being deliberately obtuse. In a similar vein, his use of sex is frequent, blunt and crude. It's kind of like being hit repeatedly over the head by a crow bar. The women often behave as little more than whores and the men are no better. Again, if sex serves a function in a novel or if it is sensitively or decently done then I have no problem, but when it's sex for the sake of sex I start to wonder whether I bought a novel or porn. Then I realise that nobody in their right mind would buy such long winded porn. In fact nobody in their right mind would write such long winded porn. I know that sex sells, but surely any vaguely self respecting author shouldn't feel like they need to sell out THAT badly!?
Sex sells. So do drugs. And here we have the whole cycle of sex, drugs and rock n roll. But nobody in the novel ever suffers a low from speed or ecstasy, nobody ever has a bad trip on LSD. It's all wonderful and there are no side effects. Even the parents seem to have no issue with their teenagers taking drugs as is shown by one parent asking her son whether they'll be drugs at a party. He responds that they'll be weed, speed and probably an E, but her reaction is outstanding: 'Oh baby, I guess you're all grown up.' Realistic? Not on my life. For a start, what teenager would tell their mother what drugs they are planning on taking? Secondly, would your parents react like that? I know that neither of my sets would. And probably most importantly, is this the message we want to be sending out about drugs? Because we all know that their are side effects, there are lows and there is a reason why they are illegal; but this isn't portrayed in the book.
Well, to be fair you've probably already had a full earful of my opinion. But what I don't understand is why this book has such fantastic critical acclaim. It's the winner of the Commonwealth writers prize and was long listed for the Man Bookers Prize. Everybody was raving about it:"A tremendously vital book in every sense. Completed at a gallop, it fairly crackles alone, juiced up with novelistic license and peeled-eyeball candour, the characters driven by their appetites into a thrilling, vital approximation of what it is to be alive."
And this kind of praise isn't rare, so clearly a lot of people disagree with my opinion. But neither I nor a lady at my local pub who was reading it at the same time get it. To me this was crude, unrealistic and appalling in terms of plot and character development for the first three quarters of the novel. It's content, language, style, plot and characters seemed completely lacking. In the later sections of the book I actually found myself enjoying it, but for most of it I was forcing my way through it for the sole purpose of writing this review. Very much an, 'I read this so you don't have to' kind of moment! I just don't understand how it this is a phenomenal international bestseller. There aren't even any translation issues which can be blamed. It is a fantastic idea, but it is very, very badly implemented.
Surely you've heard enough of me by now? If I'm honest I wouldn't have given this one star if Dooyoo allowed me to do that, unfortunately Dooyoo doesn't give me that option. Christos Tsiolkas did try to redeem himself with the later part of the book, but it truly was too little, too late. But my overall view is that it really pays to read the first couple of pages, or at least sentences, of a book before buying it:"His eyes still shut, a dream dissolving and already impossible to recall, Hector's hand sluggishly reached across the bed. Good, Aish was up. He let out a victorious fart, burying his face deep into the pillow to escape the clammy methane stink."
Trust me, it gets no better. In fact, it gets far, far worse. From now on I will make a concerted effort not to impulse buy books... Don't waste your money. It's not worth it.
Summary: Thank me for the warning and stay well clear of this rubbish