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.)  

http://ikandel.wordpress.com/2011/03/26/the-fearless-observer-christos-tsiolkas-on-the-slap/

http://inside.org.au/suburban-mayhem/