The plot – There is a middle class barbeque in Melbourne and one man slaps a three-year old who is not his son, and frankly is a pain in the arse. The book deals with the reverberations of this on the other characters lives. There are roughly eight sections each narrated by a different character.
My problem is that I can’t work out if this book is really insightful about the dilemmas of modern life or just trashy.
A negative aspect of the novel is that everyone is horrible – they are either doing drugs, cheating on their partners, indulging in domestic violence, having brutal sex, etc. It highlights a problem that I noticed whilst living in Melbourne which is that of racism, especially in the suburbs – however it becomes hard to tell if certain aspects of the novel have Tsiolkas holding a mirror up to this as racism or just expressing those narrow views himself – its hard to tell. He deals with racism towards Aborigines but also the problems of immigration of the ‘wogs'(???) which in Aussie speak are European immigrants such as the Greeks and Italians. As a member of a Greek family I imagine he is well placed to comment on this.
The central dilemma of the novel, the slap is complicated by the fact that the child is so awful that you want to hit him yourself and the parents are such annoying hippies. This makes the novel more interesting and the fact that the characters are not as black and white as they may seem adds a level of interest. It was very interesting reading about my old Melbourne haunts and reminiscing about my trip to Ubud as the characters go to these places, I am not sure if someone who hadn’t visited Melbourne would find it quite as interesting.
Overall it paints a largely unflattering view of Australia, elements of which I found to be true – scratch the surface of the cosmopolitanism and there is racism. It is a good beach page turner but I am largely unsure of whether it has the literary merit to have earned its place on the Booker longlist.