Literary Criticism and Significance
The Slap is Christos Tsiolkas’s fourth novel. The novel was well received commercially and critically and has won several awards both in Australia and abroad, perhaps most notably in the best book category for the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize. The Slap was also long listed for the Man Booker Prize. Critics tended to respond to the novel’s structure, its depiction of the Australian middle class, and its thoughtful storytelling.
Many critics praised Tsiolkas for his unusual plot structure. The novel is told over eight chapters, each one focusing on the perspective of a new character. Tsiolkas’s ability to bring so many characters to life without creating an awkward text is particularly noteworthy. Several critics praised Manolis’s chapter in particular for its consideration of death and cultural change. By relying on these multiple perspectives, Tsiolkas explores issues of gender, race, and class in contemporary Australia.
For his depiction of life in contemporary Australia, many critics declared Tsiolkas as a new and important voice in Australian literature. Writing for The Australian, Venero Armanno suggested that Tsiolkas’s depiction of Melbourne as a pluralistic, cosmopolitan city “perfectly encompassed the Australian middle ground while at the same time veering so far away from presenting traditionally white-bread characters.” Instead, Tsiolkas seems to be writing about a new middle class of Australians.
In addition to receiving praise from its Australian audience, The Slap went on to receive international acclaim, perhaps in part for its unique depiction of suburban life. The Slap is an interesting continuation of Tsiolkas’s earlier novels like Dead Europe, in which he explored homosexuality and drug use. These subjects have earned Tsiolkas a reputation as a somewhat shocking author. However, he marries these subjects with typical suburban life in The Slap, which has led British reviewer Doug Johnstone to refer to the novel as Tsiolkas’s “examination of the complexity of modern living; a compelling journey into the darkness of suburbia.” Tsiolkas turns the mundane, suburban world on its head by writing about his previously shocking subjects, including illicit sex and drug use. For this, he has received a great deal of attention.
However, Tsiolkas relies on things that supposedly stabilize suburban life—family, friendship, and barbecues—to draw attention to the middle class he envisions. The modern, suburban world has changed; Jane Smiley, writing for The Guardian, suggested that The Slap is an “exercise in liberalism. No one is evil, no one deserves to be hit, or even judged negatively.” Although Tsiolkas’s modern characters live with compromises, they seem to find a sense of peace with their lives and are perhaps happier than their parents are.
In The Slap, Christos Tsiolkas has created a uniquely structured novel that speaks not only to his native Australian readers but also explores suburban lifestyle and morality in a way that has earned him an international audience. The novel is powerfully written, honest, and bold.