Depending on who you ask, The Slap is either an innovative, daring and honest illumination of human life today, or a misogynistic vulgarity that’s offensive for the sake of being offensive. But you’re not asking either of those people, you’re asking me. I didn’t think it lived up to the hype of either of these views.
To start with, it doesn’t do anything new or daring. In fact, it’s really a failed attempt at a modern-day Ulysses. It follows real people living their real lives without shying away from the vulgar details, as is proclaimed by the opening of a man farting in bed. Is this a shocking opening for a novel? Or is it more familiar than that? It reminds me of the detailed description of Bloom taking a dump in James Joyce’ masterpiece. Ulysses was innovative, The Slap is a little late for that.
Besides, it’s not even that offensive. Is it shocking to know that men cheat on their wives or wank over school girls? Surely, in this day and age, such things are accepted facts. We all know that these things happen – that some men beat their wives; that career women have abortions and teenagers do drugs.
In saying that, I did find the book highly addictive from the start. Even while thinking that some of the more vulgar details were just unnecessary and that all the characters I’d come across were flat and caricature, I couldn’t stop reading. It’s not because I cared about the characters or the plot because I just didn’t. I think it’s something to do with the soap-opera quality of it, or maybe I was just hoping it would get better.
And the thing is, it did get better. The first three chapters were written from the point of view of the three most basic characters. With Connie, however, the voice was set apart from all those that had come before and I thought that maybe I’d been right to give this book a chance. From that point on the characters became much more complex and interesting.
Yet I still hold that The Slap is a failed attempt at a modern-day Ulysses. Yes, the characters, and therefore the book as whole, get more interesting later on but the reason it failed where Ulysses succeeded is that you don’t care about them. You don’t even empathise with them and I think for this book to do what it seems to me that it intends to do, the reader has to empathise with the characters.
After all, what’s the point in holding up a mirror to humanity if humanity can’t see themselves in it?