A book that almost legitimises hitting a three year old child doesn’t sound a great read but The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas is exactly that.
When Harry slaps a child called Hugo at a friend’s barbeque, surrounded by dozens of witnesses, who are friends of both parties involved, then divisions of loyalty rise to the surface.
It almost comes down to two points of view, either you should never hit a child or the annoying brat deserved it.
This book goes further than that. It takes the point of view from eight separate people, some of whom are related to Hugo or Harry and some who just happened to be at the party as guests.
Where the author has been intelligent is that he doesn’t use those eight people purely as witnesses to the assault. He takes us on a journey of their lives, problems and secrets outside of the incident, and then lets us see how seeing a child being slapped by an adult affects their decision-making on, sometimes, life-changing moments.
There are practical moments in the book such as legal proceedings, but that almost becomes a by-product as the tales of the people involved take over.
This is also the most multi-cultural book I’ve ever read. It is set in Australia but the entire world seems to have taken refuge in this corner of Melbourne.
There are mixed race marriages, same sex relationships and people from every area of the globe and sometimes I felt the author was trying too hard to appeal to everyone.
Connie is a teenage girl that steals the book for me, and my feelings for her changed throughout the book from being supportive to actively being against her, and also confusion. She is a very strong-willed young lady combined with all the self-doubt a teenager possesses and who impacts on many lives by her actions and non-actions.
All the characters offer such a lot in their own right and sometimes it is difficult to know if they are a villain or hero.
It is a book that makes you think about your life decisions and experiences and how your life could have been different if different paths had been followed. It also makes you realise that what you thought was a minor decision could have turned out to be just the opposite.
It will divide opinions on many subjects including abuse, infidelity, alcoholism, mixed marriages, homosexuality, parenting and friendships and that is not an exhaustive list.
This is a book that will provoke discussion through the years as all the classics eventually do.
Read the whole of The Gates of Ytan