by Christos Tsiolkas has been reported as one of the most divisive and confronting Booker-longlisted novels in recent years.
While it has already won a host of awards and received critical acclaim, this controversial and thought-provoking novel that places a magnifying glass over multicultural Australian society has made readers sweat their way through many uncomfortable scenes with mixed reactions.
The premise of The Slap is that a bratty child is slapped at a weekend barbeque by someone who is not his parent.
The child, Hugo, has been behaving badly, antagonising other children, disrespecting his elders and pushing everyone’s buttons – but is that enough to warrant a slap across the face by an adult? This is the question Tsiolkas puts to the reader.
The fall out and mayhem that follows as a result of the slap is a story told by eight different characters who were all present on the afternoon and have all been affected by the event.
What starts as a casual weekend barbecue takes us on a journey through modern domestic life in twenty-first century Australia, and not all of it comes up smelling of roses.
Idea for The Slap
In an interview with The Guardian’s Aida Edemariam on 7 August 2010, Tsiolkas recalls that his idea for the story came from his Greek mother. The occasion was a family get-together and when a young child continually got in the way while she was trying to cook, she “cuffed” the child lightly. The child then put his hands on his hips and said: “Nobody has the right to put their hands on my body without my permission.”
In real life there were no repercussions for his mother’s actions, but in the novel, Tsiolkas has asked the question, what if there were serious repercussions? And he has run with this – taking the reader along for the ride, which at times is self-reflective, rough and unsettling.
It has also won the 2009 Commonwealth Writers Prize for Best Book, the 2009 Australian Literature Society Gold Medal, the 2009 Vance Palmer Prize for Fiction (Victorian Premier’s Literary Award), as well as being shortlisted for the 2010 Miles Franklin Award – although it lost out to Peter Temple’s Truth.
Christos Tskiolkas grew up in Melbourne, the son of Greek immigrants. His previous works include Dead Europe, which was the Age Book of the Year 2006 and won the 2006 Melbourne Best Writing Prize.