Christos Tsiolkas’ The Slap is a novel that centers on the ripple effect that an impulsive act of disciplining someone else’s erring child can have on a family. The novel explores the fallout from a single event: a man slapping someone else’s child at a backyard barbecue. The novel is set in contemporary Australia and is told from the perspectives of eight different characters, all present at the barbecue.

At the center of the novel is the incident itself, in which Harry, a successful businessman and father, slaps a child who is not his own. This event sets off a chain reaction of consequences, as the other characters are forced to confront their own beliefs and values in the aftermath of the slap.

The novel delves into issues of parenthood, marriage, class, race, and sexuality, as each character struggles to make sense of what has happened and how to move forward. Some characters see the slap as an act of violence that cannot be excused, while others view it as a necessary disciplinary measure.

As the novel progresses, tensions rise and relationships are tested, ultimately leading to a climactic courtroom scene in which the legal and moral implications of the slap are debated.

The novel addresses the irony in each character’s life. Those who fault Harry’s actions and expect him to be punished by the law are carrying deeper secrets that can tear marriages apart. The novel is akin to a typical Nigerian society where we used to be our brothers’ keepers but times are fast changing.

What was called discipline is now called child abuse and everybody is cautious of how they correct someone’s child. In Buchi Emecheta’s Second Class Citizen, Adah the main character says that in her society, the child is trained by everybody, but that cannot be said of the nation any longer.

Harry’s decision to make restitution because of his wife who he claims to love so much yet cheats on her made me ponder if truly, a man can truly and wholeheartedly love a woman while still cheating on her. Isn’t that absurd? I also felt Harry’s frustration with his failed apology to Rosie who he believes doesn’t deserve his apology. It’s the same way we feel when we try to make peace even when we feel we are not in the wrong and the other party refuses to allow the sleeping dog to lie.

The novel also dissects the issue of allegiance. How it is hard for people to see things from the same perspective. Even when it is blaring that someone did something right, as humans we tend to stand without erring friends and relatives.

Christos also uses the diverse ethnic and racial differences of the characters to point out that our decisions are mostly influenced by our cultural background than our ethics, as each character chooses sides based on their view on racism and mixed marriages. What does differing allegiance have on marriages? This novel answers that.

For a novel that won the Commonwealth Writer’s Prize, I will rate it a 4/5. I also recommend it to people who want to try out a novel on multiculturalism and its effect on the family. I also have to give a mild warning that the novel contains tints of racism, drug and substance abuse, homosexuality and is heavy on sex.


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