Tonight I am going to review The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas. This was required reading for my English degree and since I recall seeing ads for it plastered all over Melbourne on buses and billboards and the like. I knew it won a zillion awards and critics loved it, I figured it might have been a somewhat enjoyable read.
I ploughed through each page with the kind of determination usually reserved for Monday mornings with a hangover, because that’s what it felt like. My head hurt and my eyes would cross and refuse to work, even if I put my glasses on. The only cure was copious amounts of alcohol to increase my reading fortitude. My husband would laugh at me when he’d hear me groaning, sighing or swearing and twice I even threw the stupid book across the room, once at his head. This book just made me so angry I don’t even know where to start.
Ok, let’s start with the actual slap shall we? Toddler-Hugo is being a giant pain in the arse and his hippie earth mother won’t discipline him so another jerk steps in and smacks the kid. From the tag line, “Whose side are you on?” I was expecting some kind of debate about the ethics of smacking a child. Nope. It was kind of equivocated as each chapter (told from the perspective of another character who witnessed the event) was either “The kid was a turd” or “hitting a child is wrong!” with very little else actually said about about why they took that particular stance. There was no great debate like I was tricked into believing. This was disappointing. I have a fairly strong belief that this current lot of teenagers are all a bunch of apathetic, moronic and hedonistic oxygen thieves because of a lack of discipline, boundaries and respect. I wanted actual opinions presented to me since it’s something I feel strongly about. Denied! This is actually a sex book!
Next, we have the characters. The most unappealing, vile, horrible people on the planet. All of them, without fail, are completely sex obsessed. And I mean obsessed. The entire book is basically one long excuse to write porny things in the most unattractive way possible. If you don’t like the word ‘cunt’ don’t even bother with this book. Every second word is cunt. Tsiolkas apparently has a very limited vocabulary for female genitalia. All of his characters use the word cunt in reference to it. Even the woman who decries she hates that her husband always saying it is a few pages later letting said husband perpetuate actual sexual violence upon her and uses the word herself:
He pulled her underants off, forced her legs apart, she heard him unzip, the tearing open of a condom packet and then his cock was entering her. She gritted her teeth, choked back a cry as he pushed hard inside her, the pain slicing her… Hector was now a jackhammer, slamming into her, she was full of him, as much in her belly as in her cunt…. He was smashing into her, tearing her apart, destroying her and putting her back together. She was crying from the pain… He had made her his again”.
That’s another thing I didn’t like about this book. The men were all assholes who used violence to control their women. Hector used sexual violence, Harry used that and phyical violence, Gary was a drunk and physical aggressor. And the dumb bitch women all moaned and complained but refused to do anything about it because they were ridiculously co-dependant. To my mind, it really perpetuated the idea that the male was the superior sex and women were useful only for procreation and needed a man to put them in their place. For example, Hector “loves” his wife Aisha (they of the jackhammered jacksie above) and constantly refers to her ability to cook, raise kids and for being not fat or ugly. Not because he likes her mind or personality or anything actually substantial. He freely admits to shagging anything that crawls, including Aisha’s 16 yr old employee. He always has and he always will. She has her doubts about him but ultimately decides to stay because they look good together. I shit you not, that was her actual reason! I’m not even going to touch the others because I’m about to go all !HULK SMASH! just thinking about the bullshit sexual politics in this book.
Each character had nothing but sex on the brain, masturbated in inappropriate places and in the very rare instances when they weren’t preoccupied with their genitals they suddenly remembered that something happened at a BBQ they were all supposed to be pissed about, whether it was Hugos mother, pissed that some jerkwad had smacked her kid, or Harry (the hitter) and his family angry that she pressed charges. Then they took some drugs and played with themselves or each other a bit more.
I’ve largely steered away from ‘literary’ type books in my reading career over the last 24 years. After being forced to dip my toes in by reading this drivel, I was reminded why. I fail to see how this book ever garnered the cult following that it apparently does, let alone to be turned into a television series. If it was filmed to be true to the book, I’d rather go and watch some actual porn because I’m pretty sure that’s less degrading to women.
The only person a book like this could possibly appeal to is people who think that using profanity every 30 seconds and writing petty, neurotic, deeply flawed and completely unlikeable people is edgy and therefore deserving of wanky literary praise.
In summation: I don’t link I have ever liked a book less. And that is saying something because I dislike a lot of them.
Also, this dude wrote an awesome review that is much more articulate.