Review: The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas

At a suburban barbecue, a man slaps a child who is not his own.

This event has a shocking ricochet effect on a group of people, mostly friends, who are directly or indirectly influenced by the event.

In this remarkable novel, Christos Tsiolkas turns his unflinching and all-seeing eye onto that which connects us all: the modern family and domestic life in the twenty-first century. The Slap is told from the points of view of eight people who were present at the barbecue. The slap and its consequences force them all to question their own families and the way they live, their expectations, beliefs and desires.

What unfolds is a powerful, haunting novel about love, sex and marriage, parenting and children, and the fury and intensity – all the passions and conflicting beliefs – that family can arouse. In its clear-eyed and forensic dissection of the ever-growing middle class and its aspirations and fears, The Slap is also a poignant, provocative novel about the nature of loyalty and happiness, compromise and truth.


If you’ve yet to hear of The Slap give me a moment to pause in surprise, well at least if you’re in Australia. I don’t see this novel as being as well known as say Stephen King or Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk, both of which are part of pop culture now, but The Slap is one of those books that has been slowly growing momentum as a subject you can hear murmured about on your periphery, if it hasn’t as yet made it into your direct line of sight.

I’ve been wondering something that is probably common amongst those who have not read this novel yet, which is why is The Slap so talked about? After finishing the book a part of me is still wondering about it, but at the same time I can list several reasons.

The way this novel is written is divided up with eight different stories, eight different interconnected stories told via the perspective of eight different characters, and all of them are connected not by the event mentioned in the synopsis, but because they’re friends and family. When you read the synopsis you’re led to believe this story is about something contentious and the stories of these characters are influenced by this event. In reality, it is a window into eight people’s lives and most of the time the presence of the slapping business is rudimentary, at best, when not directly involving the mother of the child and the slapper.

I like and enjoy the idea of several character perspectives and their stories, as a definite window into their lives, but you can always tell that the writer is directing everything, The characters may be separated in personality from each other, but they don’t have a real chance to come alive and in the end it feels as if they are puppets being controlled by the puppet master. Of course this is something all writers are like anyway, we’re all puppet masters controlling our puppets even when we say we aren’t, but the reader should not be aware of the strings.

An example of this is certain terms being used, one of these terms can be considered very vulgar and used for shock value, which a lot of the characters are using. The lack of differences are small, but sometimes it’s the small elements that can shatter a bigger picture, and if there were truly an array of personalities surely there would be different terms used for the one object?

As for what is contentious in this story? To me there isn’t anything too out there to get worked up over and I don’t believe that is because I’m far from naive. To me The Slap is showing ordinary people and ordinary lives, but using subjects to also show what people can become incensed over needlessly. This is going beyond the actual slap, something of which I don’t condone at all and there’s other subjects in the story I don’t agree with either, but it’s all a matter of perspective and when it comes down to it who are you to judge what is right or wrong? I feel a lot of what is pointed out in this story, in a subtle way, is more about showing different views, how values and morals can differ from one person to the next even when they share the same subject, and the most glaring thing for me? The Slap is like a collection of what society has fear and anger over, but not because we’ve come to that conclusion ourselves, rather on account of how the media has fed those dislikes to us.

If you want to read The Slap because of what might be considered a controversial subject, you’ll probably only find it so if you’re easily offended or at least don’t probe below the surface of what is written. In any case, this is a very well written novel, and whilst I became bored at times with the characters, I still found something alluring about these stories that kept me reading.

  • Genre: General Fiction
  • Demographic: Adult & older YA with a wide reading spectrum
  • Rating Out of Five: 3
  • Format: Paperback
  • Find At: The Book Depository
  • Published: 2008
  • Challenges: GLBT Challenge & Book Club

3 thoughts on “Review: The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas

    • I think it’s definitely a book where it’s not going to be what you expected. As a book for my book club, it’s one of the things I discovered about The Slap, amongst others.


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