Sex and Dugs in a Nightmare Soap

This is my review of The Slap (Atlantic Cult Classics) by Christos Tsiolkas.

The slap is an incident at a barbecue, where a man commits the cardinal social sin of hitting an obnoxious child who is not his own. This is clearly a rich vein to mine for a modern moral maze. The author is ambitious in his approach, by selecting eight very diverse people affected by the slap to varying degrees, not merely to develop the ramificatons of this event, but as a cue to explore their attitudes and values in general, in order to place under the microscope urban life in C21 Australia. This broad scope leads to a lengthy novel, full of digressions which diffuse the potential drama of the slap and its immediate outcomes.

I have no idea how realistic the portrayal of Melbourne is and the extent to which the author meant to portray so many of the characters as crude, selfish and insensitive, corrupted by the society around them, but the amoral, drug and booze-fuelled lifestyle which is apparently the norm is depressing. Some of the characters are clearly intended to be flawed e.g. Rosie and Gary, and the reasons for this are spelt out without much subtlety. The frequency of gratuitously foul language, pill-popping, messy bonking and casual infidelity alongside excessively violent and shifting emotions, makes many of the characters seem too similar, and reduces what could have been a powerful and thought-provoking drama to a farce, in which one cares too little about the fate of those concerned. The graphic descriptions of bodily functions are probably very honest, but add nothing to the tale. I agree with those who found the book overlong, with too many characters introduced at the barbecue in the first section. It was only necessary to include those who would reappear or are crucial to the story. The chapters after the resolution of the court case on "the slap" seem an anti-climax. I may have missed something, but the end of the last chapter struck me as very weak, with too overt a desire to "dot the 'i's' and cross the ts'". I may be wrong, but feel that the author has an interest in exploring issues of bisexuality (Connie's father) and "coming out" as gay (Richie), which create a complexity too far to muddy the central theme of the book.

To be fair, some scenes are very well-observed, so I am left with the feeling that this book began with great potential but became flabby with the overlong string of descriptions of individual excess and offers only a rather muddled message which needed more careful expression.

⭐⭐⭐ 3 Stars

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