‘Discomfort is sometimes what is most precious to me about great art’ – Christos Tsiolkas on The Slap
Note: This review/interview is uncensored and contains swearing.
The Slap (Aus, US) is a novel that grabs you by your tender spots, squeezes, and doesn’t let go. It’s yelling, not at you, but in general frustration, at the edge of a cliff, at the end of the world. The end of the world might be Australia. An Australian city and its suburbs in the age of almost extreme political correctness and ensuing confusion. A man slaps another person’s child at a barbeque, and the narrative branches out into the lives of several characters who were present. From teenagers to aged immigrants, and many middle-aged characters in between. While strands relate back to the incident, and opinions surrounding it, the themes are much broader, more challenging, and voracious. Issues such as racism (and reverse-racism), crossing the line (in many circumstances), new conservatism, domestic violence, adultery, the family, home, surfaces and secrets, notions of honour, generational conflict and differences, lust, eroticism, homoeroticism, forbidden desires, lies and half-truths, the institution of marriage, parent/child relationships, feminism, work vs motherhood, suppressed rage, pedophilia, drugs, and teenagers. Phew. It’s a cliché to call a writer ‘brave’, and I don’t think Tsiolkas suits any clichés. I think he is wonderfully necessary as a brutally honest and angry writer. The character portraits, too, are so well-drawn. How does he know what it’s like to be a teenage girl, for example, or an old man? Because somehow he does. The only thing that really overlaps chapter to chapter is a kind of rage. In some characters it springs from stubbornness and assuredness, in others, from confusion. Reading the book is part-epiphanic, part-assuring. Tsiolkas spoke to a deep part of me, the part that swears inside my head when someone is taking too long in the line in front of me, where sometimes words pop into my head that aren’t me, that aren’t said aloud. He speaks for the stoppers on us, the bottle cap. The novel never goes into right and wrong – everyone is an a**hole, everyone is weak in some way, everyone is stinking with humanness. I was absolutely stoked when Christos agreed to answer a few questions for me about the novel:
One of the main themes through the book, to me, seems to be the notion that we live now, in Australia, in an age of new conservatism and over-the-top political correctness. Is this something you wanted readers to think about?
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