Book review: ‘The Slap’ by Christos Tsiolkas

It’s the ABC show that everyone is currently talking about – but have you read the book? Guru Magazine‘s Ben Veal has, and he wasn’t exactly bowled over…


High praise has certainly been heaped upon Christos Tsiolaks’ The Slap: The Times dubbed it the “first great Australian novel,” while John Boyne has even gone so far as to call it “one of the … truly great novels of the new millennium.”

It was these positive reviews that, in part, persuaded me to read The Slap, but what also appealed to me was the fascinating premise: one day, at a suburban barbecue, a man slaps a child that is not his own. I was intrigued to read the reactions to this event, and to see how the author could make a novel based around such a simple premise span almost 500 pages.

The answer: by stretching the tale about 100 pages longer than is strictly necessary. As a result, the book doesn’t quite hit the mark – although it does come close at points.

Looking at the incident and its repercussions from the point of view of eight different characters, The Slap is a fascinating exploration of the preconceptions that we have towards people that we encounter in everyday life; those characters that you initially sympathise with become tainted later on as we learn their deepest thoughts and desires (most of which revolve around sex – there is enough carnal activity on offer here to make an avid Mills & Boon reader blush).

Whilst this is what makes the book interesting, this is, sadly, also where the book unravels – every character is so utterly miserable and devoid of morality that Tsiolkas is seemingly suggesting that the very fabric of the human condition, for all people, comes down to a slight dissatisfaction with ones’ lot. Nearly all of the characters are unlikable and tacky, and because of this, it never quite becomes the serious observation of human nature that it could – and should – be.

The Slap is an excellent holiday read, and has no doubt been seen around many a swimming pool this summer – but it’s a long way off being one of the best books of the new millennium.