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The Slap - Book of the Month

by Christos Tsiolkas

A suburb of Melbourne, 2009: the barbie’s lit, several stubbies have been downed, underlying tensions are being kept nicely below the surface, when – wham - someone hits someone else’s child. Thus begins THE SLAP, the most hotly-debated piece of literary fiction to come out of Australia for a while. The novel, which was long-listed for the 2010 Man Booker Prize, goes on to tell the story of the repercussions of that single mindless act of violence.

There’s a typically understated scene in the TV series, MAD MEN, in which, at an upstate New York party in the late 50’s, one of the men slaps a child. The boy’s father comes over and, instead of admonishing the man, tells his son to apologise to him. This contrasts nicely with the incident in Tsiolkas’ book. Although set within a similar demographic – thirty-something suburbanites – the reaction of the other guests to this contested assault on a child is the basis for an entire novel.

While many of the incidents in MAD MEN serve to make us reflect on cultural and value shifts over the intervening half century, Tsolkias takes it up a level and forces us to consider carefully our present moral register. By writing from the point of view in turn of eight of the guests at the party and, thereby, altering our perspective on events, he expresses a complex, shifting reality.

THE SLAP is a great read with engaging characters, a zing-along plot and it’s a far more sophisticated and subtle book than the economical language would initially lead you to believe.

Clare Chandler

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