Christos Tsiolkas – The Slap

  • Christos Tsiolkas, The Slap, Penguin Books, April 2010, 482p.
  • Brief Summary: A novel told from multiple perspectives, The Slap examines in intimate detail the aftermath and fracture of a social circle after a man slaps a child that is not his own at a family gathering.
  • This is for: Fans of domestic novels. Those interested in themes of societal change, inter-generational conflict, and immigrant experiences.
  • This is not for: ideologues. Those who need big plot points: there are revelations and events that happen throughout the novel, but they take a backseat to the experience and voice of the featured character.

I was intrigued, as perhaps you are now, by the tagline on the front cover of Christos Tsiolkas’ The Slap: “At a suburban barbeque, a man slaps a child that is not his own…” Those words immediately suggest conflict; we can imagine how that scenario might play out among people that we know. Friendships broken, inter-familial feuds, overstepped boundaries and violations of trust. All these things can be found in The Slap, however the novel contains much more.
The novel is structured like eight independent novellas, focusing on different characters involved or present at the titular incident. Each has their own perspective on the incident, but also their own secrets, their own experiences, their own relationships. Because all of these characters are fully realized and have their own degree of engagement with the conflict–in fact, in at least two of the sections, the slap plays a very minor role in their story–the slap acts as a common focal point showing the differences in the lenses that the characters use to look at the world. They range in age and perspective from  a 15-year old trying to navigate the rough waters of cruel schoolmates and his own gayness to a 70 year old Greek immigrant coming to terms with his own age and the fact that the world has changed very much since the time he was raising children.
Tsiolkas gives the reader the opportunity to really get in the character’s heads, without judging them or editorializing. It’s a great read.

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