Saturday, March 28, 2009

The Slap

Apologies for the long posting absence. And after such a valiant start, too! I knew this would happen as soon as work got going again.

I finished reading Christos Tsiolkas' 'The Slap' quite a while ago, and have been in a quandary about what to write. This is, after all, not a critic's blog, and I - as an aspiring writer - feel I don't have the credentials to give it a hiding. In particular, I don't want to be the kind of aspiring writer who likes to tear other writers' work to shreds. Everyone has their own individual voice, and their own message to convey, and thank God for that. Wouldn't it be boring otherwise? Still, I guess that as a reader - and a discerning one at that - I do have the right to voice an opinion.

First, I would like to commend Christos Tsiolkas on his strong and convincing voice. The novel reads easily, and is very graphic in its attempt at realism. A few of my friends have read it and we discussed it while it was still fresh in our minds. These friends are intelligent, well-read, professional women, and though each of us had a slightly different take on where the novel took us, we pretty much all agreed on one thing: how the book made us feel.

Tsiolkas' realism was a tad too brutal and ugly for me. Though I'd felt sympathy for almost all the characters in the beginning of the novel, as the story unfolded and each character was placed under the microscope, fatal character flaws were exposed, which made it difficult to find any redeeming qualities. Above all, I felt sort of dirty after reading this book. The language was unnecessarily foul. This observation isn't made because I'm a prude who's averse to swearing - quite the contrary. I think the odd, well-placed swear word can express emotions with great economy. I just don't think people generally swear as much as the characters in 'The Slap'. Bad language was used so often that it became redundant. Consequently, the impact was lost, and all that remained was a general feeling that the novel was coarse.

The sex scenes were mostly unpleasant too. Well-written and spare, but again, the sex was ugly except for one scene where one of the characters is being unfaithful to her husband. I couldn't help wishing she'd take off with him, seeing as her husband's regard for women seemed to border on misogyny.

Drug use among young people was another facet to this novel that I found disturbing. Again, I'm not naive on the subject. I know young - and old - people - do drugs. There's no shock factor there. However, I found the portrayal of young people just out of VCE, languishing in an empty, directionless world to be quite depressing.

For these reasons, I found it difficult to suspend disbelief while reading. The obnoxiousness of the characters and the grim situations in which they found themselves, continually pulled me out of the story. As such, 'The Slap' was hard to reconcile as a true depiction of contemporary suburban life in Melbourne. Though Tsiolkas' cast of characters spanned a wide range of cultural and socio-economic groups, they were all alike in one sense. The glaring disparity of their lives was bridged by a common sense of pessimism and wariness that drove each character to commit acts of destructive recklessness.

Tsiolkas has been commended for this work, and I agree it was a mildly compelling read. For me, what kept me going was more the level of my investment in the novel than pure joy of reading it. Like one of those slightly weird SBS movies that come on late at night and keep me glued to the screen because I'm too tired to get off the couch, turning the pages of 'The Slap' was a case of hanging on until the end in the hope of some kind of redemption. Sadly, that was not to be.

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