Monday, July 20, 2015

“Honest Writing” May Repulse Readers from Otherwise Interesting Novel

Source: Publisher Website
The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas (2008; Penguin, 2015, 496pp.)

At a backyard BBQ in Australia, a group of long-time friends is shocked when Harry, cousin to the BBQ’s host, slaps the spoiled, misbehaving child of Earth mother Rosie. There are different reactions to this event: most of the women are distraught and horrified, while the men (and one woman) secretly applaud Harry for his “take-charge” attitude. Narrated in turn by different witnesses, Tsiolkas’s novel documents the consequences of the slap, and the social rifts that form because of it.

The Slap is an interesting work to say the least, delving into the peculiarities of inter-family dynamics, the less flattering aspects of cohabitation, and the distressing, though inevitable, fact that all relationships, whether they be marital or platonic, change with the passage of time. That said, some readers may find it hard to get past the first few chapters, due to the plethora of bodily functions described, like farting, urinating, and breast-feeding. While many reviewers (myself included) have found themselves disgusted by such excess description, one Goodreads reviewer defended the novel on grounds that the author isn’t focused so much on shock value, as he is on writing about life honestly. It’s an assessment that I ultimately find myself agreeing with—though it’s a shame that such “honest writing” has the tendency to backfire, and turn many readers away from what proves to be an otherwise interesting examination of human interaction.

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