Saturday, 15 January 2011

The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas

An unruly toddler causes trouble at a barbeque in Australia. He goes to hit an older boy with a cricket bat, and gets the titular slap off the other kid's father. This sets off a massive barney; the police are called, it goes to court and friends and family draw up battle lines over the rights and wrongs of whacking this horrible child.

It's told in linear fashion, but each chapter is from the point of view of a different person who was at the party. And it's a wide spectrum - from the mother of the toddler to the man who hit him, but also from schoolkids and grandparents who've been drawn into the drama. You get to see things from changing perspectives and nothing's as cut and dried as it looks at first glance.

Except it is really. This kid's a nightmare. He's fawned over by his creepy mum (still getting breastfed at four), and he parrots slogans like "no-one can touch my body without my permission." It feels like the author's making it pretty obvious he thinks children like this could do with a good slap now and then.

But perhaps I'm wrong - one of the points the books makes is that there are three kinds of people in the world - men, women and mothers. Perhaps a mother reading this book will think it's always unacceptable for someone to slap your child, no matter their behaviour. They'd be wrong, of course.

The whole slap thing is really a way to look at issues of parenthood, love, desire, growing up, growing old, disappointment, money, class, race and roots. It's very skillfully done - the characters are believable and interesting, and the different storylines are well handled with some unexpected twists and red herrings. One of the characters writes for a soap opera, and this is what it reminded me of - a good soap.

This was a book on tape, and I'm now listening to Devil May Care the "official" Bond book by Sebastian Faulkes. I'll be finished that soon. But my reading's taken a bit of a battering this month. I've started four books and finished none. The title of 2666 I suspect refers to the number of pages you have to read before something happens. I've been enjoying Thunderstruck about Doctor Crippen and the invention of the wireless. Pretty interesting, but I don't know if I'll finish it. Also, PJ O'Rourke's latest. He's nowhere near as funny as he used to be. And a miscelleny of weird facts and opinions from ancient Romans. I'll certainly finish that one (it's short) and then I'll have to take stock. My bad old habits are returning.


James said...

I have this but haven't had time to read it yet. It sounded real interesting.

Devil May Care was, I thought, ass.

Bryce said...

I'm putting it out there that if anyone sees my kid act like a brat I encourage them to give him a smack...

Bryce said...

Dude, I eventually finished 69 Things to do with a dead Princess. It took a lot of getting through given how small it is. Utter shit.

I think that the problem with you finishing books is your selection process. Out of the last couple of books you have given me 2 out of 4 haven't been 'proper books'. It is always a lot harder to get through something like that.

Some people say that Transformers is a movie. I couldn't finish that either.

Joe said...

"Proper books?" What the hell are you wittering on about? You finished 69 things and the Difference Engine, which are presumably "not proper" or at least strangely put together, but abandonded the biography of Mao, which is as proper as they come.

Check yourself, sir, before you wreck yourself.

Bryce said...

I'm still reading Mao; so put that in your pipe and smoke it!

Difference Engine started strong and faded badly. 69 Things was just nonsense. All I'm saying is that some books make it very difficult for the reader to get through them... Others don't deserve to be finished.

Probably not what you need to hear in the whole blogging about books you read thing.

Joe said...

Sometimes I will start a book which I don't expect to finish - just got a massive tome out the library about Japanese reconstruction after WW2. Looks really interesting, and you never know, but chances are I'll get a third of the way through. I don't see that as a waste of time though.

Most times I don't give up because I'm not enjoying a book, it's just that another one catches my eye. It's different with a book on tape, and I'll tend to finish it even if it's trash, like Devil May Care, Caligula and the Prestige. Part of that's looking forward to slagging it on the blog.