Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas

I circled around The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas a few times at my the bookstore before scooping it up at our local annual book sale.  What drew me to this particular book is its premise and how it told the story from many different points of view.  

The story begins with a barbeque in a suburban neighbourhood in Melbourne that goes horribly awry.  One of the children, an over-indulged product of new-age parenting gone wrong named Hugo, is hit by a man attending the party.  This one act results in a series of dramatic events and strains families and friendships.  Everyone has an opinion about how the situation should be handled and the tangled relationships of those present reveal themselves. The parents of the child who was struck, Rosie and Gary, decide to press charges against Harry, the man who claims to have hit Hugo in defense of his son Rocco.  Their pursuit of him becomes a single-minded determination, which ruptures friendships and develops tensions in otherwise happy households.  

The story makes a person question their own beliefs when it comes to child abuse and healthy parenting, but contains other, more subtle, underlying issues.  Without knowing much, if anything, about Australian society, I felt like I was given an authentic picture of Melbourne. Tsiolkas shows class distinctions as well as a divide between immigrants and Australians.  By "Australians" I am referring to the decedents of convicts and others who came from England in the first wave of immigration. As well, there are similar disparities between long-time friends who happen to be on both sides of the social-economic divide. It seems that economic class bubbles to the surface at the first hint of conflict and everyone is guilty of pointing out these differences.  

Though I am doing my best not to give anything away, I must say that the ensemble cast of characters all have a number of issues which reveal themselves at a fast pace. Everyone has skeletons in their closets and the plot moves along really quickly.  It is richly-textured, with complex relationships between the various characters and Tsiolkas does a great job keeping track of the various threads.  What he achieves is a complicated, but totally worthwhile story which causes you to question your own beliefs. This ability to provoke the audience into thinking about your fundamental beliefs, is a rare talent, and makes The Slap a great read.       

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