‘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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  1. ...] ‘Discomfort is sometimes what is most precious to me about great art’ – Christos Tsiolka… [...

    by Round ‘em Up – LiteraryMinded on Feb 7, 2009 at 8:23 pm

  2. ...] I live in the East, and got quite squeamish at times with his accuracy. Anyway, here’s a recent interview. He is a very good [...

    by Miscellaneous Mum – Trying to find the objective correlative, everyday » Blog Archive » Favourite links of the week #6 on Feb 8, 2009 at 3:03 am

  3. Really enjoyed reading this article! It has made me start a “to-read” list of books.

    by Jo on Jun 22, 2009 at 9:03 am

  4. ...] of its anger and frustrations”. Other reviews similarly argue that the book is ‘angry’ and ‘yelling.. in general frustration’ about the state of suburban [...

    by “The Slap, Christos Tsiolkas” « Blogging The Bookshelf on Jun 28, 2009 at 11:07 am

  5. ...] of its anger and frustrations”. Other reviews similarly argue that the book is ‘angry’ and ‘yelling.. in general frustration’ about the state of suburban [...

    by “The Slap”, Christos Tsiolkas | Blogging the Bookshelf on Jul 19, 2009 at 11:34 am

  6. ...] Christos Tsiolkas said c**t [...

    by Cut, print, that’s a wrap: 2009 – LiteraryMinded on Dec 23, 2009 at 8:16 am

  7. ...] Review with Christos Tsiolkas on LiteraryMinded Possibly related posts: (automatically generated) [...

    by The Slap – Christos Tsiolkas « Writer on Writer Action on Jan 2, 2010 at 4:23 pm

  8. ...] wanting to spoil the ending, I agree with Angela Meyer when she said that it could’ve ended much darker. For a novel that was so dark and [...

    by Benjamin Solah, Marxist Horror Writer » Book Review: The Slap – Christos Tsiolkas on Feb 16, 2010 at 3:50 pm

  9. ...] had been rooting for The Slap, by Christos Tsiolkas, a bold book that I love and champion. Now I have finished Breath - a haunting and beautiful, well-rounded, atmospheric coming-of-age [...

    by Thoughts on 2009 Miles Franklin Literary Award winner Breath, by Tim Winton – LiteraryMinded on Feb 27, 2011 at 8:47 pm

  10. just saw an interview on the BBC 3.3.2011 – and i have never heard of this bloke and i live in amsterdam. in 2009 spent 3 months in aussie and still no-one or word of this tsiolkas. ???? interesting stuff….
    he has a chip on his shoulder if you ask me. Bad enough being a wog…then homo…and then in suburbia….average white australians don’t like this.
    The word ”wog” is terrible – white australia policy (Menzies) – what were they thinking. I haven’t lived in australia now for 35 years – always weird to go back – it changes all the time – Sydney is now full of asians (sorry!) and they don’t speak english. Cab drivers are the worst i have come across through all my travels. Thought of coming back to live in sydney but…too european i think now…i was apologising to my husband all the time about how bad they were….I was the black sheep then in the 50′s and 60′s growing up in the southern suburbs of sydney and remain a black sheep here. I always thought i wasn’t rough enough. I just ordered the book – very interesting and can’t wait until it arrives. Funny that i didn’t come across this before. At Sydney airport i always have a bad coming home……customs says to me…why don’t you live here? does he really want to know….. i pinch myself not to answer.

    by timtamgirl on Mar 4, 2011 at 3:59 am

  11. This documentary i saw is hounding me…..when i saw that he comes from Melbourne a lot of what i saw (his discomfort) on tv made it make sense…there he was this middle aged greek/australian who wants everybody to know he is gay! But there is more to it than that….Now if he came from Sydney then (!) but Melbourne i always felt was more articulate and better dressed and decent than Sydney. He proves me wrong – but he is one generation down from me. The generation under him, born 1980 are the generation of ME ME ME – that is one of the reasons we are in this global mess. I completely understand that he could never live in Greece – he is an australian with just enough greek to feel that he should have a look, but keep on moving – Greece is in a huge mess, should never have been allowed into the euro zone – along with Spain, Portugal and a few others. Time will tell…maybe we wil end up with northern euros and southern euros. So not only do i have to wait to read this book – i also have to do some more reading, Breath – maybe that is what he was talking about on the tv. He said he hadn’t finished it yet…..obviously i am way behind in all of this….but nevertheless desperately interested, born in australia – still hanging on to the aust. passport…..just can’t give it up. Was brought up to be on the look out …there may be an enemy behind the tree (my father fought in north africa in 2nd world war) and could never really talk about what happened. He came to australia on his way to america and met my mother and got married almost immediately – didn’t have a penny on him. Took on a new identity to rid himself of his jewishness….that didn’t work – but i was brought up as though i was to save the world….so idealistic. Had to leave home the day i was 18. I was drowning and colliding in the blackness of it. Ended up living on the other side of the world – further away i couldn’t get. sorry – got carried away with my life story….this book, the comments and reviews are very relevant and real to being born and bred in australia. can’t wait for the book

    by timtamgirl on Mar 4, 2011 at 8:59 am

  12. ...] Conrad turns out to be Christos Tsiolkas’ (author of the Slap) favourite writer in English (see this interview), and just like Conrad in Lord Jim he uses a single ‘explosive’ act to expose the [...

    by The destructive element | Papacito on Oct 10, 2011 at 2:53 pm

  13. ...] From the Guardian book review of The Slap The premise is this: an obnoxious child does something faintly threatening at a family barbecue, and the father of the threatened child smacks him. Everyone is so upset by this that the barbecue breaks up in a hurry, and within a day, the parents of the slapped child have the slapper arrested. But Tsiolkas’s purpose is not to explore the idea of child abuse; it is to use the family and friendship connections originally limned at the barbecue to look at how love and background come together, …his real talent is for exploring the inner lives of his eight primary characters, four women and four men, ranging in age from 18 to 70. And each of these characters is a sharp observer of those around him or her, so many more lives are illuminated as well. Read Angela Meyer’s interview of Christos Tsiolkas here [...

    by LitBirthdays October 23 – 29, 2011 | Literary Birthdays Blog on Oct 25, 2011 at 10:50 pm

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