Never, Never, Ever, Ever See It Again. Please.

The SlapIt’s rare for me to relinquish a book from my grasp, but there has been one book that’s proved the exception to that rule. In fact, I couldn’t wish it further from me and did, when I posted it to my sister because she needed it for research purposes, send it with the explicit instructions that I didn’t care what she did with that book, provided that she didn’t inflict it on anyone else and that I never, never, ever, ever saw it again. Please.

I have to admit that this is a blog that I’ve almost written a thousand times over, but have chickened out of every other time. That’s in part due to my wholesome upbringing, which results in anti-book sentiments being stifled by the adage that if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all. It’s also in part because in stark, inversely proportional contrast to my enjoyment of it, this book keeps going from critical success to critical success and I worry that it’s not the book, it’s me.

For the record, the vehemency with which I dislike the book troubles me too—I want nothing more than for writers to succeed. But then this book that I found unfathomably awful gets nominated for another, much-heralded literary prize and the frustration and incredulity rises in my throat.

The book is Christos TsiolkasThe Slap.

The premise—‘At a suburban barbeque, a man slaps a child who is not his own’—is brilliant. It’s the execution with which I take issue. Following the tangential lives and knock-on effects of that split-second event on the adults at that barbeque, the book should prove an interesting, engaging read. Instead, I found it tedious, relentless, bland, and short on any redeeming features. So tedious, relentless, bland, and short on any redeeming features that I toyed seriously with contacting the publisher to ask for my money back.

LoadedThe characters are, without exception, completely unlikeable. Yes, that might be the point, but while readers will forgive and even relate to flawed characters, those characters need to have some trait (one—c’mon, give me one) I can work with. Compounding that are the facts that the characters all feel exactly the same and that they don’t, quite simply, ring true.

To me, the female characters were completely, utterly, two-dimensionally unbelievable and the 17-year-old girl, in particular, felt so clunky and wide of the mark I actually scoffed and rolled my eyes while reading about her. And the drug taking by middle-aged Melbournites? Maybe I’m naïve or simply getting old, but meh, whatever, they felt lame and clichéd and something that belonged in another book. Say, for example, Tsiolkas’ break-out book Loaded, which I really enjoyed.

Perhaps the greatest frustration I felt was that while the premise promised so much, the book delivered so little. I made it to the end of The Slap through nothing less than sheer determination and an almost militaristic you-will-read-20-pages-a-day discipline. I wanted to have a complete sense of it in order to make informed comment at my bookclub and I also maintained hope that there would be some pay off for the pain. Instead—and spoiler alert for those of you not entirely put off reading the book by now—I was absolutely incensed because there was no prize for making it through. Nothing. Ever. Happened.

The fundamental problem is that I genuinely didn’t care whether it was right or wrong to slap a child that’s not your own. Because Tsiolkas never really got to the heart of the issue. I didn’t care about the minutiae of the completely heinous, inauthentic, interchangeable, and all-too-similar characters. I simply wanted to edit the book, saying, ‘Condense the characters, make them believable (even if you’re determined not to make them likeable), don’t make it so goddamned difficult for the reader to go on the journey with you, and above all make something happen.’ I mean, if you’re going to put a smoking gun in the room—spoiler alert again—at least have it go off. I practically begged aloud for the affair with the 17-year-old to explode. Instead it ended with an entirely lethargic and unrealistic nothingness with the wife never finding out.

Dead EuropeThe Allen & Unwin site boasts that ‘The bestselling cult author of Loaded and Dead Europe turns his blowtorch onto the belly of middle-class suburban Australia and its notions of child-rearing and acceptable behaviour.’ That’s the rub. I wanted blowtorch. I could have handled loathsome characters if I’d had some red-hot, explosive, contentious, moral and ethical boundary-pushing storylines and action. Instead, I got a book I didn’t like, with characters I liked even less, and a compelling premise that was oh-so-frustratingly never realised.

For the record, my sister loathed The Slap in equal measure and my friend Clare and I almost fell over ourselves in mutual, rapid-fire ‘Yes! And I couldn’t believe that…! And what about…!’ reasons for our indignation when we somehow stumbled across The Slap in general book conversation. So I’m not alone in my anti-Slap protestations, even if I’m the only one committing them to paper. Also for the record, the book has never, happily, been returned.

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Fiona Crawford

Fiona Crawford is a freelance writer, editor, blogger, proofreader, and voracious reader. She regularly appears as a book reviewer in Australian BOOKSELLER+PUBLISHER magazine. Fiona is also (unfairly) known as the Book Burglar due to her penchant for buying family members—then permanently borrowing—books she wants to read herself.

8 thoughts on “Never, Never, Ever, Ever See It Again. Please.”

  1. Thank you thank you thank you for writing this blog. This is exactly the way I feel about the book. I didn’t mind the young gay boy & the Greek grandfather characters – out of all of them I thought they showed at least some depth. But the 17 yo girl was so way off the mark it was almost laughable and the rest of the characters, apart from being unlikeable, were made boring by their two-dimensionality. The book never gets to the guts of anything. I kept going with it because I kept hoping it would get better. It didn’t.

  2. May I just say “thank you”…I could not agree more…I really just thought this book did not ‘get’ female characters at all…
    Like not.at.all!

    I am a middle class woman (albeit in Sydney) and I don’t know ANY women like this…women don’t talk that way or about themselves that way…eg I have NEVER EVER heard women use the expletive that starts with *C* as way to describe themselves or their body yet I know plenty who use it as a swear word (urban women/working women/affluent women by the way not the suburban women like in the book)…but it’s not a word women have ’embraced’…I’ve lived in my suburban area for 15 years and NEVER heard it uttered…

    I also thought the characters were wholly unlikable and generally interchangeable…and I thought while it was sold/promoted as a book about a dilemma that parents face the whole book seemed to be very anti-parent…was there a sympathetic parent in the wholebook?

    I know plenty of people who couldn’t finish this book…people who love books and read widely I might add.

    I have wondered since publication if an unknown author would have gained anything like the same traction with the same book…my feeling is 100% that he/she wouldn’t have.

  3. I couldn’t agree more! I am at a loss to know why the book has been widely lauded. I hated it. None of the characters or situations rang true. It was a book I was relieved to finish and do not want to revisit.

  4. I’m glad you didn’t chicken out from writing this finally, I know that feeling when you think it must be a fault in yourself when you seem to be so out of step with the zeitgeist. I can’t add much more to the comments already, except to say that the reason I think this book keeps selling is that the premise is terrific, intriguing, timely, what have you … but to my mind, ‘the slap’ is a mere hook, and I don’t think the book has much to say about the dilemma it sets up at all. I bought a copy and read it because of that hook, and the hype. Obviously the people commenting above did the same thing, and after I read it, I went online searching for opinions and found a lot of annoyed, mystified and disappointed people responding to positive reviews. That explains the sales, the awards and accolades are a whole other thing – don’t get me started!

    And just to add, I agree with Maree, above, I also thought the grandparent characters were well done, until they got to the funeral and the expletives started. I have immigrant European in-laws of that era, and they would never, NEVER speak that way in front of women, let alone at a wake after a funeral. Mr Tsiolkas lost me yet again then.

  5. Couldn’t agree more. The Slap has been the most over-rated book I have read in the last few years. I cannot understand how a book with a total absence of writerly talent has been so widely heralded. The writing was clunky and crass, the characters were utterly awful and unengaging, and the world they inhabited one-dimensional. The emotional and intellectual world this book dragged me through was a shallow one indeed, and I expect far more from a book that’s been short and long-listed for so many major literary awards. It’s amazing what a lot of publishing and marketing dollars can do when the product is a pile of tripe.

  6. I didn’t like ‘The Slap’ either. Can’t imagine why there is going to be a TV series based upon this book. Shallow characters who just don’t reflect the inner Melbourne that I know.

  7. Glad I read this blog and comments as now I will refuse to feel guilty about not finishing the book and use my time to read others I have waiting for me.

  8. I agree with the sentiments here. I AM a bit naive but seriously, is drug use really that rampantly normal in the Melbourne suburbs? I will add that I also detested Tim Winton’s ‘Breath’ and ‘Dirt Music’, particularly the shallow and unbelievable female characters.

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