Book Review: The Aussie Slap

A controversial and daring novel, “The Slap” uses the iconic scene of a suburban barbeque to examine identities and personal relationships in a multi-cultural society. Committee for the Commonwealth Writer’s Prize 2009

Brutally honest

By Roger Childs

This is not a book for the faint-hearted.

Christos Tsiolkas exposes the often unsavoury and intolerant underbelly of Melbourne suburbia where middle and working class families interact – socialising, drinking, smoking, swearing, arguing, taking drugs, having sex and committing violence.

However, the highly convincing characters also have strong family loyalties and friendships, and support each other in times of need.

Swift discipline sets things alight

The title refers to Harry’s impulsive action at a summer barbeque in his cousin’s backyard. He hits the out-of-control Hugo, a three year old who is not his own child.

The assembled company is split half in half as to whether his intervention was justified.

Eight of those present take up the story in 50-60 page chapters as the slap proceeds to a court case and beyond. Readers get the warts and all treatment on all these folk, and their friends and families. The narrators feature:

  • the patriarch of a Greek migrant family
  • his son and his Indian wife
  • Harry
  • Hugo’s Mum
  • one of her friends
  • two teenagers who baby sit Hugo.

An absorbing read

The physical chastising of Hugo changes everyone’s life.

As the story unfolds, a wide range of Australian issues, settings and situations are featured which Kiwis can identify with.

  • racial and religious intolerance
  • domestic violence and bullying
  • the merits of private and public schools
  • teenage parties, sex and drug taking
  • adultery and infidelity
  • male bonding and female friendships
  • homosexuality and AIDS
  • tourism in Bali
  • conventions and pop concerts
  • a veterinary clinic and other work places
  • pubs and cafes
  • streets and parks
  • backyards and lounges.

The text is smattered with four letter words, but their use is not gratuitous or over-used. It’s a bit of shock from page 1, but the foul language just comes naturally to these Aussie characters!

Novelist Christos Tsiolkas.

Put together this is a highly riveting and entertaining read. The characterisation is very thorough and the story flows along seamlessly as the secrets, lies, friendships and betrayals are revealed.

Not surprisingly, it was turned into a television series.

Is this the great Australian novel of the modern era?

Quite possibly.

It deservedly won a number of prizes within the Commonwealth, and was long listed for the Booker.

It was published nine years ago and many of you will have read it.

If you haven’t, you’ll find it hard to turn the light out if you’re reading in bed.



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