Friday, 30 September 2011

It's Not Just Me

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation is about to launch another of its expensive, shallow television series - we are still serving time with the twenty-two hours of Crownies they've decided to inflict on us (do they really think this glamourfest of drinking and one-night stands and four-parent pregnancies is providing anything that the commercial channels aren't better at doing?) Now we are to be treated to a dramatisation of the novel The Slap. In the run up to this great event, we are being subjected to long interviews with the novel's author, (who seems like a pretty nice guy, actually - it's just the interviewer, with her gurning and wriggling and general St Vitus Dance carry-on, who sets my teeth on edge) and a general frenzy of hype for the whole project.

When it first became well-known, I bought The Slap and tried to read it. Unfortunately, I got fed up before I finished. Although I think that Christos Tsiolkas writes very good prose and although I thought the 'concept' was intriguing, I found the way he told the story tedious. I thought I was the only one who reacted in this way, which is why I was so pleased just now to come across this old article about it from the Guardian. The phrase in the article that particularly resonated with me was this one:

'The characterisations are thin and the endless sex and swearing become boring.'

I thought it was just because I was a prude that I found myself getting so tired of these aspects of the book. Now that I've been vindicated by the Guardian, however, I realise that my initial reaction - the sense that I was out of step and should shut up about it - reveals an interesting aspect of modern cultural life. I have the idea that I will be hectored for small-mindedness and lack of sufficient liberation if I voice my discomfort about the amount of vulgarity that seems to be included in many contemporary television programmes and novels, even though it seems to me that inserting this sort of stuff is just a lazy way of trying to keep a viewer's or reader's attention.  Thanks to Mr Skidelsky, I've discovered I'm not entirely alone.


  1. I gave up too, almost halfway through the book. I very rarely abandon books when I've invested so much time and effort, but I found the characters repellent in the worst possible way, as they were just too dull to make me care about their motivation or background.

  2. Well, now that the Guardian has backed you up. I suppose it is small comfort, but I'll mention it anyway: I agree with you completely. Profanity and sex will surely grab the reader/viewer's attention, but if the that reader is smart, it certainly can't hold that attention. But, since many reader/viewers aren't all that bright . . .

  3. Of course, when fictional portrayals of modern life in our country are so rarely a focus of attention abroad, the cultural cringe came into play a bit for me; it seemed to me that the characters were repellent, as you say, Steerforth, and that their actions reinforced the Bazza Mackenzie image of us as pretty dumb and ignorant, lurching drunkenly through dull and shallow lives.
    I think I am a bit of a prude though, Chris.

  4. I thought the book was extremely well-written, in the technical sense, but I really disliked all of the characters. I think I need to connect with at least one character - to care what happens to him or her - but I didn't connect with any of the characters in this book. And yes, the sex and drugs irritated me - I suppose I'm a bit of a prude too.

  5. If you want prudish, M-H, wait until I get going on Bridesmaids, a film I just saw.

  6. I've just read The Slap and I did find it compelling - stayed up late to read it, and then rushed home from work to get through the last couple of chapters. I certainly didn't find it boring. However, I wouldn't want to read it again - it seemed to me to be a fairly superior version of an airport novel - one when you can get interested in the fates of the characters however thin they are. So I was moved along, without being moved.

    I think the word for it is "racy".

    Good review here, making the point that everybody in the book flies into rages in exactly the same way:-

  7. Rosemary: I salute you for finishing, which is more than I managed. I'm going to read that review now, thank you for steering me toward it