By Christos Tsiolkas
Category: Literary Fiction
Published by Allen & Unwin 7 November 2008, RRP $32.95 Tpb
At a suburban barbecue, a man slaps a child who is not his own. For those who witness the incident, the consequences have reverberations that will affect all their lives, splintering families and friendships. What unfolds is a powerful, haunting novel about love, sex and marriage, parenting and children, and the fury and intensity - all the passions and conflicting beliefs - that family can arouse. Told from the perspective of eight people present at the barbeque, the slap and its consequences force them all to question their own families and the way they live, their expectations, beliefs and desires.
Christos Tsiolkas is a writer who loves to take on taboos, and believes his writing to be a form of activism. His work is often controversial, but it engages with and challenges the reader in a way they WANT to be challenged, forcing them to see a new perspective.
In The Slap, Tsiolkas dissects what “middle class” means in Australia now, and questions their aspirations and fears in this post-feminist, post-political, post-multicultural era. What are the responsibilities of parenthood? What are the limits in relationships between adults and youth? Is a slap ever forgiveable? What future are contemporary families creating?
Tsiolkas's writing gets up people's noses and shocks them badly, but he's an excellent writer and a passionate thinker, and this book sounds like a ripper. As someone with no kids I've often found myself on very shaky ground with OP's: the kind of behaviour that one parent has thanked me for ('It's such a relief that you have your own relationship with him and deal with him directly and don't expect me to do it or implicate me'), another parent has reacted to with suppressed outrage and sarcasm ('Rebuke administered?' Translation: 'That's quite enough from you, how dare you not let my child get away with being outrageously rude to you!')
Both of these women were close friends. It mattered, quite a lot. I'm a big fan of Helen Garner's novella Other People's Children, which examines similar dilemmas at the height of the 'alternative' age, and it looks as though Tsiolkas is picking that baton up from the same Melbourne backyards in which Garner put it down, though from a very different personal perspective, and a generation later.
UPDATE (with props to Mindy who called it to my attention): there's a cracker of a review by Tsiolkas's fellow-novelist Gerard Windsor, an excellent read in itself, here.
Cross-posted from Still Life With Cat