Christos Tsiolkas' The Slap touched a few raw nerves
He tells us how he tackled this multi-story tale.
This article is from 2010.
Judge me once you’ve walked a mile in my shoes, the old saying goes. Well in his latest book, The Slap, Christos Tsiolkas hands us the literary equivalent of eight pairs of walking boots. Set in suburban Melbourne, the novel opens with a chapter devoted entirely to Hector, a middle class fortysomething. We see life, the eponymous slap, and the friends and family he surrounds himself with through his eyes. Once we’ve made judgements about all of them, our assessment is swiftly disabused by the next chapter, and the next, when each of the eight major players get to have their say.
Aside from offering us a fascinating snapshot of contemporary Australia, Tsiolkas’ main achievement is the creation of eight wholly believable voices. Whether it’s 17-year-old Connie nervous at the prospect of her first sexual encounter, 69-year-old Manolis saddened by the death of his elderly friends, or Hector’s wife Aisha dabbling with infidelity, Tsiolkas leaps across the generations and genders with aplomb.
How difficult was it for Tsiolkas to see things from all sides? ‘That was one of the most challenging but also the most fascinating things about writing it,’ he says. ‘Initially I had a fear of writing women, and it was such a pleasure to realise I could do it. Whether I succeeded is up to the reader, of course. But I thought if I can’t inhabit these characters, maybe I should give up writing. And what I found is that I really enjoyed doing it.’
One of the most complex characters in the novel is Rosie, mother of the slapped child and a woman with great potential who frustrates readers by refusing to acknowledge the dysfunctionality of her marriage. Tsiolkas almost left her out, then realised her voice was ‘the centre of the book’ and that actually, he had empathy for her actions. ‘I think there’s part of me in every one of the characters,’ he says, ‘and there are choices I’ve made that are not dissimilar to some of the ones Rosie makes.’
Like all the inhabitants of The Slap, Rosie has her good and bad points, and Tsiolkas works hard to convey that. Surprisingly, not everyone agrees. ‘Some people have asked me why I made the characters so unlikeable, but I can’t see that. There are moments when they do detestable things, but I understand every single one of them. All those shadows and demons are inside us all.’
Christos Tsiolkas, 14 Aug, 10.15am, £10 (£8).