There comes along, season by season, a book which almost everyone seems to be reading. The Harry Potter series, The Da Vinci Code, The Shack, One Day - all these have attracted my attention sufficiently over the last few years to find out what the fuss is all about, with varying results. But in all these cases at least it meant I could join in the conversation. I'm trying to resist having anything to do with the 50 Shades stuff. I may fail. Last year's ubiquitous paperback was Christos Tsiolkas' The Slap.
It having been made into a TV film and the plot discussed in many and various places, I hesitated, in case I already knew too much. Even before I picked it up I knew it was about someone slapping someone else's kid and the consequences for a number of inter-woven lives thereafter. Also that it was set in Australia. But someone I read and discuss books with chose it and so I had to get to grips with it. I've just finished.
The jacket tells me it is a phenomenal international best-seller, listed for various prizes. Two pages of adulation from the good and the great of literature precede the title page. I guess I was supposed to love it - like everyone else does.
The first pages have an energy - they reminded me of the first Earthquake film in Sensurround in the 1970s. Everyone knew what was going to happen but it still shook. Except the actual slap happens on page 40 of an almost 500 page book. And it doesn't quite reverberate through everyone's lives but simply crops up in the narrative from time to time as the legal and emotional ramifications of the act work themselves out. Most of the rest of the story tells us more about the lives of the seven characters and you know what - by the end I wanted to slap them all including the kid who got slapped. The whole book is a hymn to selfishness narrated by an all-seeing eavesdropper who chronicles without comment.
I won't knock the writing - as a page-turner it worked. I read it at home for two weeks last thing at night but it would have been a couple of days holiday entertainment. The lyrics are OK but the tune sucks. And most of the sex (and there is lots) is graphic, instant, devoid of tenderness and certainly not life-affirming. Where oh where was the love?
Sorry. Hated it. If humanity is really and truthfully represented by this lot then I am afraid we are doomed.
I have just picked up a John Grisham as a quick read to follow it. In the first twenty pages he paints four characters, all with flaws and all of whom you want to be winners. It's not hard.