A Profound, Funny, Yet Deeply Disturbing Book

Maybe I’m late to the party on this one, because I’ve just finished “The Slap” by Christos Tsiolkas and it definitely deserves it’s long-listing for the Man Booker Prize and for winning the Commonwealth Writers Prize 2009 for best novel in South-East Asia and South Pacific. A sometimes brutal book, it tells the story of a group of people in Melbourne, through the eyes of eight characters, and the central theme is around a man who slaps a child at a suburban BBQ – except the child isn’t his. In our very-PC world, it was an interesting topic to explore, but there’s so much more to it than that.

Apparently the book has created a bit of a stir – but my take-away is it’s a really brave perspective on multi-cultural life in Australia. I lived in Melbourne from 1988-95 and before this I wasn’t “exposed” to that strong “wog” (the now-affectionate Aussie colloquial term for immigrants from the Mediterranean region – think Greeks, Italians, etc..) culture you get in Melbourne. Sure we had some “wog” families around, but they weren’t so dominant or separate when I grew up in Albury Wodonga – maybe it’s changed now?
But Christos didn’t just capture the “wog” part of the story beautifully, he also captures being a “foreigner” within Australian culture, the confusion of inherited cultural values within the mix of modern Australian life, the diversity and ignorance around faith, people’s views on atheism, the aboriginal perspective, teenage angst, misogyny, confusion, family loyalty – the good and the bad, being a young gay teenager, getting old, marriage and infidelity, and so much more. It’s mind blowing how broad this book is, but that’s life right?

The best thing about the book is he does it through eight central characters – from a teenage boy trying to come to terms with his sexuality, a teenage girl who has had a rather interesting life already, all the way through to Manolis – a 70+ year old Greek grandfather who has seen quite a lot in his time, and is constantly challenged by how values and respect have changed, but who is also pretty pissed off with the way life has played out – in particular the miserable woman he’s married too who holds onto old Greek values which he thinks are bullshit.

I was mesmerized by the Authors’ ability to get into each of the characters heads and tell their story from their perspective. I think one of my favorite bits was Richie’s “Big Day Out” on an E (and some) – told as a 1,000+ word review of his total experience, feelings and bliss, all without a full stop in sight. Not bad and as a former “Big Day Outer,” I can say I never had that much fun.   

This book is crude, brutal, challenging and honest. It’s funny, mesmerizing, confusing and educational. It’s about life. It’s about people. It’s about everyone’s perspective on stuff and how different we all are, because we all come from backgrounds that no one else understands.  And for all those reasons, I think it’s a very cool book.

Australian or not, I can definitely recommend this – especially for those who have, or currently are, living as an ethnic minority, anywhere.

Yours, without the bollocks


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