When a man slaps a child who is not his own at a family barbecue, the characters of Christos Tsiolkas’s The Slap are forced to reassess their relationships and values. The novel is told from eight perspectives, each person telling more of the story before it moves on to the perspective of another character. The Slap is set in contemporary Melbourne, Australia.

The story of the barbecue is told from Hector’s perspective. Hector is sent to pick up some final supplies and stops to visit Connie, a teenager with whom he has been having an affair. Hector is middle aged and spends a great deal of time assessing what he has achieved through his work and relationships. When his barbecue begins, he takes stimulants.

The barbecue has barely started when the adults are forced to intervene in conflicts between their children. Four-year-old Hugo is acting out, hitting and spitting at the other children when they refuse to watch Pinocchio. Consequently, Hugo begins to scream and cry until his mother, Rosie, consoles him by breastfeeding him in front of the other guests. Both Hector and his mother, Koula, find this disgusting. Later, Hugo breaks another child’s computer game because he lost. Rosie again refuses to punish her son, which teenage Rocco finds unfair.

As more guests show up to the barbecue, Hector witnesses many conflicts. While Rosie is busy feeding Hugo, her husband, Gary, spends his time drinking beer outside, criticizing others for their jobs and lack of integrity, particularly Anouk for writing soap operas. Gary’s dream is to be a visual artist but he makes his living as a laborer. Hector sees Gary as a largely useless, cynical man but he recognizes that Gary is intelligent. Hector also witnesses friction between his wife and his mother.

Dinner is served but the children again interrupt the barbecue. This time, the children are playing cricket and Hugo is screaming while holding a bat. The men run outside to intervene. Hugo refuses to admit that he is out, but Rocco tells Hugo to accept that he has lost, saying, “You’re out, Hugo, you bloody spoil-sport.” At this point, Hector sees that Hugo is “going to belt Rocco with that bat.” Rocco’s father, Harry, also sees what Hugo is about to do, rushes in, and lifts Hugo into the air. Hugo drops the bat and demands to be let go. Upon being set back on the ground, Hugo turns around and kicks Harry in the shin. In response, Harry slaps Hugo. Gary and Rosie immediately rush in to save their son. Rosie demands that they call the police, but Aisha convinces everyone to go home and think things through. At home, Gary and Rosie call the police and resolve to take Harry to court for assault.

The incident shocks Hector into realizing that he has put his family at risk by having an affair with Connie. Hector breaks off their relationship and the barbecue ends. Hector and Aisha make love and Hector promises to go easier on their son.

Anouk’s perspective is next. Anouk finds herself evaluating her life’s accomplishments as a writer for a popular soap opera, examining her wrinkles as she approaches middle age, and assessing her relationship with Rhys (a young actor). At work, Anouk has become increasingly at odds with the middle-class, politically correct sensibilities of the producers with whom she works. She has also recently discovered that she’s pregnant with Rhys’s child. Anouk likes her social life and enjoys the freedom to smoke and drink. Ultimately, she decides there are many things that she wants to do with her life and decides to have an abortion so that she can write a novel. She quits writing for the soap opera.

The story continues from Harry’s perspective. Harry is a busy man, running his business interests and taking care of his family. Harry first has to deal with an employee who has been stealing from him; he next sees a mistress with whom he does cocaine. Although Harry has a mistress, he clearly distinguishes his responsibilities to his wife and family and sees no conflict. Harry does not feel guilty for slapping Hugo, though he tries to apologize to Rosie out of worry for the charges she is bringing against him. The story eventually reveals that Harry has abused his wife once before. Harry may appear to be a decent family man, but his chapter confirms him as an unsympathetic character.

The story shifts to teenage Connie’s perspective and the reader is largely introduced to the teenage world in Melbourne. Connie goes through her day at high school, aware that it would have been her father’s fiftieth birthday if he were still alive. Connie now lives with her Aunt Tasha. Connie spends a great deal of time babysitting Hugo, often aided by her friend Richie, who has...

(The entire section is 1930 words.)