This was an interesting read. Sometimes literary prize winners are books that I don’t want to read, like The Gathering, which I couldn’t stand. It was with some trepidation then, that I picked this one up in the local library. In fact, I was so unsure that I decided to sit down and read a chapter before I took it home. This one however, was much more fascinating.
The action is set in suburban Melbourne in the northern suburbs, and deals with a family barbecue and the after effects of an incident which occurred there. At first the characters are portrayed as awful, if not downright repellant however we soon see the error of our initial judgements and the writing cleverly exposes our own first impressions and snap judgements, if not prejudices, as we read on.
Hector, a second generation Greek Australian, and his beautiful wife Aisha, a vet, host a barbecue for their friends and both initially have mixed feelings about the event. Aisha is of Indian Australian background and Hector’s mother does not accept her very well. The eponymous slap occurs when a spoilt three year old attempts to hit Harry’s son with a cricket bat and Harry intervenes violently. Harry, Hector’s cousin, is a violent and spoilt man and his family seem a little cowed by him at first. The links between the characters are strained as they grapple with their own moral ideas about what happened and are drawn by family and friendship loyalties.
We read the narrative from everyone else’s perspective and in doing so we see their prejudices, backgrounds and foibles. This allows us to develop empathy with each character and in doing so, explore the ways that we react to events and our own moral compass.
The novel isn’t at all didactic, it simply holds up a mirror to family life, race, drugs and drink, and relationships with friends and co-workers. It is a snapshot of part of modern Australia and honest and forthright. The multiple viewpoints allow us to see the complexity of living cheek by jowl with others in a multiracial/ multicultural society.
The language was very careful and the picture of the characters deftly wrought.
Now I know why it won the prize.
– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad