The Slap – Christos Tsiolkas

If you are not easily offended, The Slap is one hell of a book. I just now randomly opened it and counted half a dozen raunchy references to sex and another half dozen expletives. Tsiolkas throws around the ‘c’ word like he’s talking about making a cup of tea. Yet, The Slap is a very human story, albeit one filled with polarizing characters.

At our book club discussion, our moderator (that’s the person who chooses the book) asked us to write the name of the most reprehensible character on a slip of paper. Then she asked us to name the most sympathetic character. She wanted our thoughts on paper before we began talking and were swayed by opposing opinions. Then we began to discuss the book – the premise of which is simple enough. A group of disparate characters gather at the Melbourne home of Hector and Aisha for a barbeque. Hector is a gorgeous Greek man and Aisha is from India and owns her own veterinary clinic. They have a couple young kids. There are cousins and parents and friends and co-workers in attendance. One of the guests slaps the face of four-year-old, Hugo, who was going to – so the slapper thought – bash his son with a cricket bat. Hugo’s parents press charges.

But The Slap isn’t really a book about what becomes of Hugo and his parents or how the trial plays out. Tsiolkas drops in and out of the lives of various characters (one at a time a la Jodi Picoult only WAY more sophisticated and profane), giving us snapshots of their lives and insight into their feelings about the slap. We don’t hear from every character at the bbq and, interestingly enough, some of the characters we do hear from seem like unusual choices. The beauty of the book, though, is that we do get to know the characters well, feeling empathy, admiration and repulsion in equal measure – sometimes all at once for the same character.

The Slap, as another member of our group pointed out, is quite unlike anything else our group has ever read…and that’s saying something considering we’ve been meeting for 13 years. It isn’t just the language – which takes some getting used to even for someone like me who has been known to drop the occasional ‘f-bomb.’ Several of us agreed that we had a visceral reaction to the book and the characters: hard drinking, racist, violent, irreverent and funny drug users – the whole lot.  The Slap is thrumming with energy. It is almost impossible to put down.

Tsiolkas has important things to say about love, though – not just the love between a man and a woman, but the love between friends,  and parents and children.

This, finally, was love. This was its shape and essence, once the lust and ecstasy and danger and adventure had gone. Love, at its core, was negotiation, the surrender of two individuals to the messy, banal, domestic realities of sharing a life together. In this way, in love, she could secure a familiar happiness.

The Slap is an excellent novel.