Christos Tsiolkas - The Slap (4 stars)

Christos Tsiolkas - The Slap

(Tuskar Rock)

Christos Tsiolkas may have chosen the eponymous chastisement to hang his novel on, but his engaging look at Australian life could easily have functioned without it. The slap in question is visited upon an ill-mannered child by the adult whose shin he has just kicked. Given that this adult is not his parent, the incident leads to recriminations, family fall-outs and legal proceedings.

All of this is communicated through eight distinct voices, each of whom is assigned a chapter. Linked either by blood, friendship or marriage, the characters embody a fascinating cross-section of Melbourne society, with its melting pot of cultures. From teenagers taking drugs and experimenting with sex, through fortysomethings tackling career crisis and infidelity, to a 69-year-old watching his friends die off, Tsiolkas captures them all with astute sensitivity. So that regardless of whether we like them, we can at least understand. In the face of such insight, the slap itself is rendered almost irrelevant.

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