'and then...

  • the different branches of Arithmetic - -- Ambition, Distraction, Uglification, and Derision.' (A Mock Turtle regards his schooldays.) A weblog on books, media and writing by Genevieve Tucker.

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November 29, 2008


Thanks for this review. Was wondering whether or not to read The Slap, because I still shudder when I think of Dead Europe. That book actually made me shudder, the imagery was so vividly horrific.

Thanks for the review, G. It is an soap opera, albeit a well-written and plotted one. I'm halfway through reading it and am surprised by the numerous spelling errors - unfortunately, I find they interrupt the narrative flow (another one to miss the spell check was 'excpected').

christos , ive always enjoyed your writing, you've done it again with "the slap".. its not for evryone.. its for people who live it... one suggestion.. can it be printed in other languages.. and "greek" ofcourse.. i think my father would love it.. i know loaded was printed in greek.. keep up the great work.. nase kala xristo!!!

I am surprised at the praise The Slap has been given, as to me it seems pretty ordinary. I have not finished it yet (but rather than finding it unputdownable, I am really labouring to push through it). Characterisation is poor; for example, what is the difference in personality between Hector and Harry? Harry is marginally coarser, but otherwise their voices are similar. Only in the chapter on the Greek parents has any character approached three dimensions. A shame, as some as sketched (Gary and Rosie; Sandi; Shamira) are potentially very interesting.

The types of editing errors mentioned above are distracting; I also find certain choices of when to use of names and pronouns jarring.

I guess we want a modern great Australian novel; and as this one is so, like, cool, with its multicultural, inner city food and lots of "edgy" (yawn) language, it's the one we want to hold up to the world. But it compares poorly to works like The Corrections; or (closer to home) Dirt Music. It's more like The Da Vinci Code of its time; that was "unputdownable", too, and appealed by making its readers feel erudite. Surely we can do far better (and of course we are, through other writers).

Fair enough, CL. Who, then, is doing far better along with Mr. W?

It's interesting that you comment thus, as I have just been reading Antigone Kefala's journal where she records someone reading at a book event, so:

"The young man reading before me had a rough voice, a de rigueur voice developed in pubs, which they are giving us in literature too and think that this makes them Australian. A sort of inner brutality now that masks pretentiousness, an energy that never questions itself, a battering of language with no sense of its fragility, the beautiful energy, the dynamics that can be released when well used."

I'm not quite sure if I agree with her completely though, especially where Tsiolkas is concerned - I think he is well aware of all those things, even if he has not always paused to consider them in this book. Certainly I think we could do with more energy in some of our books, and that is addressed here to my liking, if not everything else.

And I'm not sure that I agree that these characters are indistinguishable, although the pace at which the story moves does mean some potential subtleties are sacrificed. There is a heightened moment between Connie and Aisha in the surgery that I thought was very badly skated over - I think the word 'adore' is used, sounded rather pulpy.

Re Genevieve's review at the top of this page: the word 'multifarious' is not a neologism. It means 'having great variety' or 'many and various'.

Christos Tsiolkas may know how to tell a story, but what a pity the story and the characters in "The Slap" are so cliched and one-dimensional. Despite the book's shoddy editing, its truly awful sex scenes (even the best writers struggle with those)and the predictability of the narrative, I kept reading because I was hoping against hope that something really interesting or surprising might happen at the end. It didn't. Tsiolkas lacks the ability to make this reader identify with or care much at all about any of the people whose lives he chronicles so verbosely and with such lack of ingenuity. And a final note to Genevieve: read Melbourne writer Michelle de Kreutser's "The Lost Dog" for an unusual story told with subtlety and originality.

Thanks for your comment, Angela, and you're welcome to disagree with my review's positive attitude, of course. Can I remark that despite its obvious creakiness, The Slap has drawn more search results for reviews on this site than anything I've ever reviewed. So it's clearly being talked about, which is part and parcel of such adventures here.

Regarding vocabulary, of course I do appreciate that multifarious is the word that Allen and Unwin publishers were attempting to spell - I have the page number where they used that peculiar misspelling somewhere if it's been corrected - perhaps there's been a reprint already? and I'd be delighted if it has, as it simply shouldn't happen.

A couple of brief remarks on Michelle de Kretser's book are sprinkled through this weblog, though I have not reviewed it. I enjoyed it for the most part, though there are a few things about it I wasn't sure I was happy with, and I'm looking forward to reading The Hamilton Case at some point.
Thanks again for coming by :-)

I also couldn't put The Slap down. I was mesmerised by the horribleness of every character except for the two teenagers.

Genevieve, I do like your suggestion that a lot of our novels are too pretty and we need some people writing anger - perhaps also writing ugliness. And that thought is quite liberating!

The Slap is certainly a page turner and Tsiolkas shows himself to be a pretty good storyteller but I'm very ambivalent about elements of the story - or the characters, really. Especially the female characters. What struck me was that the book is preoccupied with the male body and male sexuality - virtually every male character, even if he's just a bartender, is physicalised in some way and there's a sense that sex is possibly around every corner.

One of the many skillful things I admired in this book was the way it played with my own prejudices. While all the characters were horrid, somehow I found the women more objectionable. I know other readers that felt quite the opposite. Was that the author's prejudice or mine? I like that challenge.

I'd also like to comment on the various 'soap-opera' comments. The techniques which get snootily dismissed as 'soap-opera' in novels have been a mainstay of writing for hundreds of years - long before TV or even film was invented. What on earth is wrong with drawing a reader on, building suspense and dealing with issues that affect people in their lives? They are a legitimate and effective part of literature. Soaps took them up for a reason.

I haven't read the Slap, Gen, and wouldn't otherwise comment here but for your references to Loaded. I remember how Tsiolkasit was feted for it. I think it is a book of 'its time'. If that is a banal statement, in that all books are of their time, my point is I think that Loaded particularly is. I enjoyed it when I first read it, found it challenging, engrossing etc, but soon grew sick of how it came to signify what 'new' or 'dirty realist' writing was meant to be about, and what Melbourne 'really' was. And all that sex, drugs and disco.

Then again, if you like Kureishi's 'Sammy and Rosie Get Laid', or 'My Beautiful Launderette', etc, you may enjoy Loaded after all.

Then again, Kureishi didn't seem to rub it in my face.

Unlike how I feel about Kureishi's work, I'm over Loaded. Don't know yet if that means I'm over Tsiolkas too. Though with all the interest - positive and otherwise - in The Slap, I may get to it. Thanks for your review, I enjoyed getting further perspective on it.

Mark, Suz, Meredith, Bruno - thanks for your comments all.
CT must be pleased with the fact that he has certainly got people talking, and connecting, either for better or worse, with his characters and action.

I think the sense of menace from male physicality is probably intentional at many points, Suz.
And Mark, I wonder if the book will date too.
We do seem to have a lot of pretty books, yes, Meredith! :-d and this is a change.

I think I was too busy anticipating potential disaster for the women to feel dislike for them, Bruno. I believe Tsiolkas spent a lot of time working on the female characters with two women writers who are his friends - ran a lot past them. So I'm sure disliking them is an option, depending on why - are they two-dimensional? self-centred? just too damn conflicted?

Thank god for some serious reviews of this boring book. I was so disappointed in the predictability of the storyline. If I wasn't waiting for the sex, I was waiting for the drugs to come out. Having lived, worked and gone to school in these areas I found the characters extremely one dimensional, weak and self serving. The language may have reflected the 'edgey' modern social scene but where was the depth and style of descriptions found in other stories like Astley's or Winton's.

If anything The Slap is an insight into the mind of a modern Australian-Greek man and that insight shows that the racism so often raised in Melbourne papers is not necessarily driven by white Anglo-Saxons. Goodness if this is the state of Melbournians then we are a boring lot indeed.

I will however be looking out for Michelle de Kreutser's "The Lost Dog" to compare.

I have just finished reading this book - I was curious because I have heard so much about it. I didn't like it at all. I found the soap opera style unappealing, and the characters, especially the women, limited and flat. The plot structure (centred around the slap) didn't really work for me, and the story seemed to lack pace and suspense.

The central theme seems to be male violence - a most important one - but the book did not offer any way forward (apart from female submission, that is). A bleak view of human nature and its possibilities, I think.

In view of the acclaim this book has received, I kept reading till the end in the hope of finding some redeeming feature, but could not.

Joanne, Rachtann - thanks for your comments.

It does appear this book has polarised audiences, I did hear one audience member at Tsiolkas' recent appearance at the Melbourne Writers' Festival voicing a less subtle criticism - she had come to the festival, apparently, to let Tsiolkas know her book group found the book 'crude'- a funny reason to buy a ticket, I thought. But then perhaps my reason for buying a ticket was funny too. I think writers' festivals in general are pretty bloody funny all around.

Joanne, what did you think of Richie going to the BDO? I think that was Christos' way of saying, maybe there is hope...I hope your comment gets in before comments close here in a couple of weeks' time. If not, do get in touch.

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