The Slap – Charaters, Themes or Both

I have just finished reading The Slap, and have been toying with the idea of blogging about it. For a while there I thought I was the only person who hadn’t attempted to read it. I say attempt because some of the people I spoke to stopped reading half way through. It is a book that everyone seems to have an opinion on so I thought I should read it.  I was discussing blogging about it today with a colleague who said, “You have to write about it, everybody is reading it, even my friends who don’t read are reading it. Do you think I should read it?”

That’s when I realised what the novel has become. It’s the book that you feel you need to read. It’s what The Belljar is to teenage girls, it’s what On the Road is to travel-types, it’s what Anna Karenina is to Russian lit tragic – it’s the new Shantaram.

But is it anything more than that? And does it need to be?

When I think about analysis of this novel I need to think beyond the characters to the themes – friendship, loyalty, or perceived loyalty, honesty, integrity, family, sex and lust. The novel makes a strong basis from these themes and Tsiolkas is well aware of the preconceived notions we bring to these as readers. Each reader has a different opinion before they pick up the book and they might not leave with the same opinions they had at the start. In fact the novel isn’t really about the ‘slap’, these characters would have had issues regardless of the slap, it’s the issues that really make the novel.

But on the majority of reviews I’ve read the themes are glossed over and the focus is on the characterisation. Like most people I’ve discussed it with the characters irritated me. Basically I’d describe the men as selfish ‘cunts’ to use the language of the novel (although I am adverse to references to female genitalia being used as an insult – but that’s another issue). I thought most of the women used their marital status as a defence mechanism. The characterisation did have an affect on me – I started getting paranoid about what men were really thinking while they were having conversations with me – was there an internal dialogue of abuse going on purely because I have a vagina? I also looked up some of my favourite male bloggers to see what they thought in the hope that they would tell me that men really aren’t that bad.

So are we missing the point of the novel if all we see are the characters? Or is it impossible to remove these themes from the characterisation – if I don’t like the characters maybe I just can’t cope with what it means to be Australian today? Can we separate loyalty, honesty, integrity, family, sex and lust from people and look at this from a theoretic perspective – or is that just a waste of time, when humans embody these elements?

Here are some links to some great articles if you are interested in reading more. (Or perhaps just tick it off the ‘must read or I’m missing out on the debate’ list and move on.)


  1. Absolutely agree re it being a book that gets a reaction from people. I’ve been working on the TV series of The Slap (we just finished shooting yesterday). It’s going to be really interesting to see what reaction that gets when it airs on the ABC later this year.
    The show has a facebook page and already some of the comments show the passion people have. There are also clips there of behind the scenes footage if anyone is interested. Here is the link:



  2. Hi Melissa, I read the The Slap when it came out and think it was great. It hit several spots for me in that it expolres the inner city melb I grew up and live in. Many of the first generation migrants he talks about were my friends and school mates. It is one of the few modern Australian books that looks at inner suburban culture and characters. The view of migrant parents and the way they can lord a kids success but disown neagtives is very true. A few friends of Italian or Greek backgrounds will say this is spot on. Interesting also is the way Anglos are portrayed as sliding down the slippery slope of economic success-I know many people doing this also. Its just spot on in so many ways. Can not believe people are so negative about the book- must live very sheltered lives. His portrayal of the male characters is tough, but I disliked Aishia the most-manipulative and dishonest. I went to the Big Day Out at Princes park that the kids go to in the last chapter. Its great.



    1. Thanks for the comment Paul. This book certainly does bring out people who love it and others who hate it. I think it’s an interesting point that you raise about people who dislike the book having sheltered lives. I think a tell tale sign of a good novel is it’s ability to transport people into a world that they know nothing about and allow them to identify/empathise/sympathise with the characters and themes. Readers ‘want’ to like characters – no one commits to a novel that size with the hope that they will hate the characters.
      I agree that it looks at inner city Melbourne very well, also having lived there, and currently working there. But I need more than just recognition to be sold on a book.
      Once again, it seems we are discussing characters, and avoiding the themes…



  3. Hi Melissa
    Well, just finished The Slap. Found myself wanting to read on and get it finished. Enjoyed the read. Found the characters of both genders, shallow. They all appeared to live their lives in a kind of self-indulgent self-absorbed intensity. Hard to like them or really feel much for them except for a sadness for their concerns. They are well drawn but their lives appear to be squeezed into the narrow confines of the cultures in which they grew up. Their interests seemed to be narrow and not really thoughtful, their connections to one another filled with their limitations and their unthinking acceptance of their lives. Hard to find them joyful, interesting or challenging. They seemed real but depressingly one dimensional. I was also disappointed that the issue of the slap and the place of physical punishment of children was not even seriously considered, but dismissed in a few narrow moments in the middle of the story.



    1. Hi Phill, I’ve been keen to hear your thoughts. I was a bit frustrated at the physical punishment element as well – I think I expected more about it given the title. Thanks for your thoughts.



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