Monday, 20 June 2011

The Slap/City of Thieves

So I missed my first book club as my husband booked me on a surprise holiday. Truth be I hadn't finished the book.
We were supposed to have read The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas. Its set in modern Australia and is supposed to delve into the repercussions of a grown man slapping a badly behaved boy at a family bbq.
I was put off from the first page and even though I stuck with it my first impressions were correct. The characters were vile, the language was terrible (swearing not grammar) and painted a depressing racist view of Australia. I am no prude but time and time again I felt uncomfortable reading it. I'm not sure whether this was because I was aware I was going to have to discuss it in front of ladies who (not wanting to offend anyone) are slightly older than me but there really was no need for the extent Tsiolkas went to. There wasn't a single character who you felt you could empathise with or that you were rooting for. I expected to be swinging from character to character as I read each characters point of view but I just found myself caring less the more I read.
I was looking forward to reading it. To choose the slapping of a child as a focus for the book left you thinking it was going to cover meaty issues kind of like Jodi Picoult and I was interested to read about Australia's social circles.
When it became obvious that this wasn't going to happen I thought it may be more 'court scene drama' but this didn't happen either. Tsiolkas seemed to want to hit on as many controversial topics as possible - rape, abortion, violence, sexuality, adultery, drug usage, alcoholism without actually delivering enough on any of them. This left the reader feeling disjointed and unsure as to what type of book they were actually reading.
The ending too was rather random but highlighted how Tsiolkas seemed confused himself as to how he wanted the book to pan out. The slap and its court room conclusion was kind of finished with half way through the book and you ended up instead following a boys coming of age story facing his estranged father and confronting his sexuality. Not what you expect from a book called The Slap!
I wasn't the only one to think like this and although I cant really comment on the meeting as I wasn't there I do know that there was actually an argument about scoring the book so highly by giving it a 4.
Taking into account all of the above I have more to say about The Slap than I do about the latest book City of Thieves by David Benioff . We all liked it but didn't really have much to say about it. The storey is based in Russia during World War 2 with the two main characters having to steal a dozen eggs for the Commanders daughters wedding or face certain death. It sounded like a brilliant story and was an enjoyable read
I've come to the conclusion however that there are certain books that are just not good book club books no matter how much you enjoy reading them you just can't take them apart like you can good book club books.
For example - The Hours - nobody particularly loved it yet we talked about if for ages and picked up on loads of points. With Thieves we discussed how I didn't like the beginning. It took away all suspense to the story. You knew he lived, he got the girl etc but then we stumbled finding anything else to discuss. In fact we talked more about TV and Kindles (3 members now have them with one on order!)
We did discuss how much of the story was based on truth as the descriptions were vivid and it was supposed to be Benioffs grandfather however the first Chapter does end with Benioffs grandfather saying 'You're the writer make it up". After the book club a member did email me to say she had been researching Benioff and emailed me this interesting link
As we enjoyed it so much we ended up giving it an 8 however if I was scoring it as a book club book I would have given it a much lower score. Something to bear in mind when choosing future books I suppose!
Next book is The Help by Kathryn Stockett
PS I left The Slap in my holiday lodge and wrote in side it when I read it and what I thought so if anyone ever comes across it I'd love to know!