Review “The Slap” by Christos Tsiolkas

The slap

The slap

I bought this novel The Slap by acclaimed Australian author Christos Tsiolkas late last year as a  birthday present to myself. I had heard so much comment about the novel that I wanted to read it. It was also short listed for the 2009 Miles Franklin Literary Award and was winner of the 2009 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, two more reasons for wanting to read it. There had been considerable media hype since its publication.

I resisted reading it for some weeks, keeping it on hold until our beach holiday just before Christmas.  In the few days before starting to read it, I read Tim Winton’s The Turning. I reviewed that book yesterday. I thoroughly enjoyed Winton’s collection of stories set in Western Australia and picked up The Slap with enthusiasm. I was enjoying a prolonged holiday of reading, and, at almost 500 pages, this was a work I could really lose myself in over the holiday break.


From the first page I was not only disappointed, I was furious, revolted, disgusted and appalled – sometimes all at the same time.


The premise is brilliant: a group of people living in Melbourne gather for a backyard barbecue. All is going well until one of the younger children behaves abominably and one of the adults slaps him.  Trouble is – the adult is not his father. The novel is in eight parts, each told from a different person’s point of view of the same incident. Each section covers the life of the person relating the incident, the events before and after “the slap” and their reactions to the event. It affects each in various ways, and for many different reasons.

In my opinion, the only other strength of this book is the characterisation. Tsiolkas has drawn eight major characters (as well as a few minor characters) brilliantly. By the end of each section you feel that you really know the person thoroughly. In fact, you could meet any one of them at a barbecue or at the pub this weekend.


From the very first page Tsiolkas sets out to shock the reader. There is frequent very coarse language, something I find very objectionable. It is also unnecessary. If it is in character, and used for the purpose of shocking the reader, then it may have a place, used occasionally. After the first two or three pages of this novel, it no longer shocks; IT IS VERY IRRITATING. And very poor writing. Couldn’t the writer think of another word?

I find the same thing in many movies and television shows these days. Otherwise brilliant films like Four Weddings and a Funeral are very much the poorer for all the coarse language. Writers: if you want to shock the viewer do it very sparingly, otherwise it no longer shocks. It is just lazy writing!

Two major themes of the novel relate to drugs and sex. It would seem to anyone from another city or country, on reading this novel, would conclude that everyone living in Melbourne is either regularly out of their brains on drugs, or out of their pants in yet another bizarre sexual activity – or both! Sure, this probably reflects the lifestyle of about 0.1% of Melbourne’s population, most of them crammed into the characters in this novel.  It occurred to me that whenever the plot was wandering, or getting weak, Tsiolkas would decide to throw in more about drugs or sex. In sections it borders on the pornographic. Again, lazy writing in my opinion. This book reads like a set of interesting, well written characters in search of a good plot!


This novel has been praised for the quality of the writing. It has won awards and prizes. It has sold many copies and done very well for the author.

I have read many reviews of this novel, many of them praising the book and placing it on a very high pedestal indeed, saying, in effect, there should be more high quality writing like this in Australian literature.

What rubbish!

Such reviewers wouldn’t know good literature if it bit them on the nose. If this is indicative of the fine level of Australian literature, it is a major concern. Thank goodness we have the likes of Tim Winton who writes brilliantly. I look forward to reading more of his works. I’m sure I’ll never read anything else by Tsiolkas.

Offer: Anyone want to buy a ‘read-only-once-and-never-again’ book?

Going cheap.

Review “The Turning” by Tim Winton

The Turning - Tim Winton

The Turning - Tim Winton

Tim Winton is arguably Australia’s leading writer at the moment. Four times winner of our most prestigious Miles Franklin Award, Winton stands alone at the top of Australian literature. His most recent award was for his highly acclaimed novel Breath. I read this last year and made comments on my blog here.

It was with great anticipation then that I took his collection of short stories The Turning away with me on a beach holiday just before Christmas last year. This book is a collection of twenty short stories set largely in rural Western Australia. The rural settings evoked by these stories spoke strongly to me as I grew up in a similar setting here in South Australia. Much of what he wrote about was familiar and comfortable territory.

What makes this an interesting book is the interconnectedness between many of the stories. While each story stands alone, each also has connections with other stories. Sometimes the setting is the same. The same characters keep appearing in different stories. Different characters relate the same incidents from their perspective. It is clever and intriguing writing.

While the settings are most definitely a strong point of the collection, the characters are also strongly drawn. You could walk into any country pub anywhere in Australia and find one or two people just like Winton’s characters. He certainly has a strong grasp of the Australian character.

Very enjoyable reading.

Highly recommended.

Further reading:


  • Winton, T 2006 The Turning. Pan Macmillan Australia, Sydney

Writing from your childhood experiences

Last week I enjoyed reading the collection of inter-connected short stories called The Turning written by award winning West Australian author Tim Winton.  I thoroughly enjoyed the book and it was all I had hoped it to be. I’ll review it on these pages soon.

One of the most obvious strengths of the collection of stories is how Winton has drawn extensively on his childhood experiences growing up in rural Western Australia. This sense of time and place is powerful, and it set me to thinking and reminiscing about my own childhood. I grew up on a farm in the Murray Mallee districts of South Australia. the more I thought about it the more the memories came surging back. Some good, others I’d rather forget.

I was supposed to be on holiday last week, but there are times when the writer in me just cannot switch off. I actually wrote several stories  and made notes for another one, all based on childhood experiences. At this stage I am too close to the stories to know whether they will stand alone as unique stories in their own right, or they will become a part of a much bigger work.

Drawing on childhood experiences is something all writers can do.

Flannery O’Connor said that anyone who has survived beyond the age of twelve has enough fictional material for the rest of her life.’ (John Dufresne in The lie that tells the truth)

What I have done with these memories of my childhood is to take a real incident – and fictionalise it. I changed the names – to protect the guilty – and often twisted or totally changed the  events to suit the drama of the story. I distinctly remember a classmate breaking his arm while we were playing football. His reaction astonished me. I changed this incident to a broken arm during a cricket match. That’s the beauty of fiction: you can change or make up whatever you like. The stories read almost like a memoir – but much of the content is fiction. I’ve drawn on just one incident – the broken arm, for example – and let my imagination soar.

Writing activity:

  • Cast your mind back to your primary (elementary)  school days.
  • Think of one incident that sticks vividly in your memory.
  • Write down exactly what happened – or as accurately as you can remember.
  • Now rewrite it in a fiction form, bringing in imaginary characters, new incidents, a different ending – just let your imagination have free rein.

Good writing.

What I am reading: ‘Breath’ by Tim Winton

Writing a novel – a writer’s journal part 24

Breath by Tim Winton

Breath by Tim Winton

What I am reading: Breath by Tim Winton.

I must sadly admit that I have not read a great deal of Winton’s work-yet. It’s something I intend correcting in the coming months and years. I had previously seen a stage version of Cloudstreet which I found not only fascinating but also a test of endurance. (From memory the play goes for about five hours, plus two meal breaks.) I have also read an extract from The turning. I had heard so much said about Breath when it was first published, and again when Winton won the Miles Franklin Literary Award this year. This is the fourth time he has won the award, making him arguably Australia’s leading novelist. So it was with a heightened level of expectation I came to his latest novel.

I was not disappointed. Winton’s lyrical style oozes from the text throughout, particularly when he is describing the surfing scenes-which these are frequent-and when he refers to the West Australian landscape. Layer upon this an intriguing account of the coming-of-age experiences of two teenagers and the brooding atmosphere of the setting in both time and place, and you have the elements of a great story.

As I delved deeper into the novel I was mesmerized by the accounts of the ocean and of surfing. I’m not a surfer, nor do I enjoy swimming at the beach, but Winton’s narrative sucked me in like the incredible pull that waves and water must have on those who are obsessively compulsive surfers. I was spellbound by the simple yet profound words of a master storyteller.

There are two technical aspects I wish to highlight. There is an absence of speech marks throughout the text. I thought that this might lead to confusion on the part of the reader, but after several pages I became adjusted to this technique and read without difficulty. Mind you, I’m not about to change my writing style and copy Winton in this, not until I can also boast a string of award-winning novels to my credit-and can get away with it. Besides, I mainly write for young children and almost all publishers would frown upon this technique for children’s books.

The other technical aspect is a short comment on point-of-view. I have struggled with changing point-of-view with my work in progress. Various readers have pointed out my inconsistencies, something I will attend to on the rewrite I’m about to do. Imagine my delight when I discovered that even award winning Winton has an unexpected-but brief-shift in point-of-view.  It was so obvious to me that it jarred. It is so easy to do and is something I need to be constantly vigilant about.

Despite my small criticisms, this is a novel which is destined to be held in high regard as belonging firmly in the vanguard of great Australian literary works. In fact, it will deservedly take its place amongst the great works written in English.

Related articles:

  • Writing a novel – more articles in this series about how I went about writing my novel.


  • Winton, T 2008, Breath, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York