Friday, March 11, 2011

The Many Slaps of Christos Tsiolkas..or How Did Our Book Club Discussion Go?

Slap #1: What most people assume the author is referring to in The Slap takes place at an Australian barbecue. At this outing, a man (Harry) hits a kid (Hugo) who isn't his own. Sides are taken, the police are called, and Tsiolkas sets things up so that while we are incensed by the act, the parents (Rosie and Gary) are so unpleasant that it's hard to say who really is at fault.

Slap #2: This is what stopped one of our participants from reading the novel. Christos Tsiolkas assaults the reader from the first page. Hector, one of several narrators of the story, works his way through bodily functions, meditates on sex and uses enough naughty words to have the book banned in many a school district. It's a dare, really. Like a book with heavy dialect that by the middle seems to be a language that you've translated, the language becomes gentler as the book progresses, even when the narrator jumps at one point to the equally posturing Harry (Hector's cousin, the "slapper.")

Slap #3: It's a multicultural world out there; get used to it. To those folks in Australia (and by extension, the United States) who want to go back to a world where they could navigate their life avoiding Blacks (Aborigines here, but use your own substitute) and Asians and Muslims and gay men and lesbians, Tsiolkas seems to be saying that isn't really possible anymore. It's a development that tears at this Greek community in Melbourne, which of course is interesting, as one time they were the "Blacks."

Slap #4: It's all relative, in more ways than one. Yes, this is a novel about family ties. Is Aisha, Hector's wife, more loyal to her friends or her husband's family, particularly his father Manolis? But more than that, Tsiolkas mines the changing perspectives of the novel particularly well. An unlikeable character becomes likable. Someone we've gotten to know well grows more distant as we read the book through other's eyes. These ties become the key to the truest slap, which winds up directed against Rosie. And by the way, we all liked the way Tsiolkas moved the plot along with each character, with almost no doubling back to revisit events.

Slap #5: Sex and drugs, but not so much rock and roll. It's going to be tough for some people, particularly when seemingly balanced teenagers Connie and Richie are popping pills and shooting up. Remind yourself it's a novel. But boy, you need to be prepared for that.

One of our new participants (we had three--I'm psyched!), who was really the only person who attending who read the book and didn't like it, wondered what we thought of the writing, which she thought was a little flat. There was some agreement, but it's my contention that there is more to a great book than the purpleness of the prose. I should have made her pick up Tinkers then and there; beautifully written with an intricate structure, but not the most complicated of plots. It's always something!

I started this novel, thinking "Boy, there must be some amazing Greek community in Australia." I had seen a novel some years ago about this gay man feeling hemmed in by the traditional community. Of course it turned out to be "Head On", based on Tsiolkas's first novel, Loaded.

So let folks know that this book is an assault on several levels, except, oddly enough, in terms of violence. It's almost prissy in its lack of blood. But if they can handle it, The Slap is a really great novel and a wonderful book club selection. For more, read this Washington Post review or maybe this interview in the Times (UK).

Coming Up:
Monday, April 4: The Girl Who Fell from the Sky, by Heidi Durrow
Monday, May 2: People of the Book, by Geraldine Brooks
Monday, June 6: The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, by David Mitchell.

1 comment:

Milly said...

Would love to take part in your book club. What time do you meet?