I read this novel because I wanted to know what all the fuss was about. Snappy tag-lines appeared in review supplements the world over, and I really needed to know just what was so (as judge at Commonwealth Writer’s Prize, Nicholas Hasluck, put it) ‘controversial’ and ‘daring’ about it. The premise excited me, too, with its aim to show modern attitudes towards die-hard disciplinarian strategies.
The story begins at a family BBQ, when the slap of the title becomes a catalyst for the subsequent analysis of modern society. A spoilt kid of liberal parents is naughty to the extreme and, consequently, provokes an elderly and conservative attendee to give him a whack. The immediate divide between those who believe that the slap was justified and those who reckon it’s plain wrong acts as an introduction to the ensuing chapters where wider themes are explored. Themes like modern multiculturalism, and the subsequent opposing values within this multiculturalism, become an extravaganza of ethics where the reader is forced to consider their own prejudices and opinions, as well as deliberating on the broader theme of actions and consequences.
Although the novel satisfied my interest in a multicultural society and its differing parenting values, the accolades this novel received are, arguably, too in keeping with the fashion for putting themes (particularly multiculturalism and politics) before style. After all, the nuts and bolts of telling a story are still important, right? Disregarding the tense atmosphere of the story, the characters were, on the whole, one-dimensional and too flawed to evoke empathy from the reader. In addition the slap of the title achieved its climax too soon and seemed almost to have been forgotten about by the end of the novel. However, most importantly, beyond characterisation and plot, a story threaded so intricately with themes has to demonstrate the ability to show and not tell, an area, sadly, where The Slap falls short.