Tuesday 20 February 2018

A slap in the face for the PC brigade

The Slap Christos Tsiolkas (Tuskar Rock, £12.99)

The Slap has been getting stick for some time now. Longlisted for this year's Booker, the novel by Australian author Christos Tsiolkas has been condemned as misogynist (India Knight wrote "Raoul Moat would have gulped it down at one sitting") and praised as a "masterpiece".

Colm Toibin, whose Tuskar Rock imprint publishes the book, cheekily wrote on the book's cover that it is "reminiscent of Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections and Don DeLillo's Underworld". High praise indeed.

The Slap has certainly pulled its own weight in publicising the Man Booker Prize, which always risks overshadowing the books themselves. It was already a bestseller when it was longlisted for the Booker, and has won the Commonwealth prize too.

The book is, in its way, a modern masterpiece, in that it describes a singularly contemporary over-reaction to a single incident.

It takes its name from the defining dramatic moment of the story: at a barbecue in Melbourne a man, Harry, slaps a brattish child who is not his own and the book's action unfurls from that single moment as the parents of the child press charges.

The starting point for The Slap is an attack on PC culture and how we got to this point and it takes the reader on a journey through the complicated experience of modern life.

The story is told from the point of view of eight different characters, four men and four women of different generations, from teenagers to septuagenarians.

The Slap deals with uncomfortable issues such as racism, sexism and violence but to dismiss the book as misogynist seems deeply conservative.

It is, after all, just words, and fictional ones at that. And what is the point of fiction if not to reflect our lives, with all their unpleasant realities, and to confront and challenge the reader by doing so?

The over-reaction to this book seems to be the perfect ironic response to Tsiolkas's statement about political correctness gone mad.

He takes the lid off modern, urban First-World living and lets the contents spew out by looking at the effect of a single action on a world ensnared by its own rules.

In doing so, he very skilfully forces the reader to question their own beliefs and judgements and their own behaviours.

Are we really in need of protection from fiction that pushes boundaries? I think not.

If you want a book to tuck you into bed for an undisturbed night's sleep, read a fairy tale. If you want a gripping analysis of modern life that will most likely keep you up all night, read The Slap.

If it wins the Booker (the shortlist is announced next Tuesday) you'll be way ahead of everyone else in your book club!

Irish Independent

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