Please tell me that Christos Tsiolkas isn’t writing ‘The Sequel to The Slap, The Reverberations of an Uncalled-for Act in Civilised Society’. Put my fears of column inches and breath going waste over a clunky, plotless, ineffectual mass of drivel to rest. I wouldn’t want to see trees destroyed and the earth endangered to put into circulation so much inanity, re-creating caricatures that already scream at you from your television screams in sexed-up soap operas.
With shallow characters proudly boasting weaknesses which Zeus and His entire Pantheon would quail at themselves, and writing that sounds like it has been ripped off an uninterested Class Seven student’s English homework, The Slap is easily the most irritating book I’ve ever read. It beats England, England hands down and makes you wonder at the intelligence (or lack of it) of befeathered panels of judges who propose and extol the clumsiest pieces of writing as introspective studies into societal patterns- I seriously doubt even Tsiolkas ever thought his episodic mishmash of characters would ever be construed seriously. Well done, then, Christos, because you’ve managed to pull the wool over the eyes of quite a few people, and I hate myself for having fallen prey to the frenzy and the hype. I confess to my crime- I read two-thirds of the book. Persecute me in any Court of Law if you will, but please don’t write a sequel. If you don’t have any such ideas, I hope I’m not giving you some.
And to think this embarrassment of a book won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, something that was once sensibly awarded to the sublimely beautiful Lloyd Jones novel Mister Pip, shakes my faith in humanity and gravity and everything we’re taught to believe in. The characters are extremely weak and you never have a chance to get into their skin and feel things the way they do. The attempt at threading together multicultural influences in Australian society isn’t remarkable in any way, and the idea I take away from the book is that all immigrants stick together and seek flings with other immigrants when bored of their own lives (which is almost all the time). No one is happy, and life is one big frown between scrunched-up eyebrows. The only positive thing is that the book arouses your curiosity in a way- you keep reading, hoping you’ll stumble upon some kind of plot. Right now, though, I think life is too short, and maybe even gloomy (I learn from my reading experiences) to keep plodding through the rest of the ‘story’.
The blurb on the cover says the book is about how the lives of a group of middle-class people are affected after they become unwilling victims/witnesses of an ugly incident at a barbecue, where a man slaps a three-year-old child. (If, in the course of reading the book, which I sincerely wouldn’t wish upon you, you are inclined to side with the ‘wicked man’, don’t worry- Hugo is the most irritating child in the history of literature. Blame it on the parents- the most annoying ever, in their own right, so there you have it, a family of excellence.) Relationships suffer, affairs are ended or embarked upon, and whether or not they’re all because of The Slap (my roommate likened it to the title of a cheap movie, and I wouldn’t disagree, because this is a literary equivalent) I haven’t been able to, or bothered to, figure out. Tsiolkas has an OCD-like fixation with carnal pleasures and four-letter expletives, and you can’t go past two pages at a time without being treated to voyeuristic images and sounds of moaning and sighing. Christos, my man, too much of anything isn’t good. Anything. That isn’t half the problem, though, because you cannot write. Period. You’ve had your fifteen minutes of fame, so get yourself a beer and retire to the pleasures of the desert and the ocean, drive from Perth to Melbourne and back, play rugby if you will, but don’t let us hear of you publishing a book ever again. Unless, of course, it’s a manual of some sort.
PS: Those who know me will understand that I must have detested this book to spew so much venom against a poor individual. I might think differently tomorrow, but I don’t want generosity to efface the truth.