At a barbeque in suburban Melbourne a man slaps a bratty child who is not his own. Then everything kicks off. The parents of the brat decide to involve the police (!), which creates a problem, as the mother is the best friend of the wife of the slapper's cousin. You may need to read that last sentence twice. Everyone in this small middle class world is now slowly drawn in to the drama.
It makes for an entertaining story which manages to capture within a small group of characters a swathe of contemporary Australian identity. The slap's a small event, followed by a bunch of small reactions, that somehow manages to give an insight into a big continent.
It's also a very interesting exploration of a certain life stage - lots of the characters are in their 40s, and seem to be faced with the fact that they have achieved much of what they set out to achieve, and now have to ask: what's next? Here's a television writer:
She was chic, and with age, that mattered more than looks. Chic didn't desert you. She did look her age but she looked fantastic. She was secure, comfortable and she had a good life. She knew this but it was not enough. She wanted to do great things. Television was not a great thing. Rhys was not a great thing. She wanted to write a book that would shake or move of be known throughout the world. She wanted the grand success. Or the grand failure. It did not matter. She did not want the pleasurable and comfortable mediocrity in which she now wallowed to be the sum of her life.The book did falter a little towards the end. The author clearly does not sympathize with the slapped child's parents, and so there was towards the end a certain mean-spirited kind of banging away at his theme, which made it a less rich and complex book than it could have been. The characters also are not always as diverse as they could be - every single married man in the book is rather miserably having an affair. Thus we get lots of this sort of thing:
. . . the tearing open of a condom packet, and then his cock was entering her. she gritted her teeth, chocked back a cry as he pushed hard inside her, the pain slicing her . .It's also all a bit suffocatingly bourgeoisie after a while:
A cruel thought flashed quickly and guiltily in her mind: be a man, deal with your fucking mid-life crisis - it is so boring. She scanned the list of dishes. She would order the whole fish smoked in a banana leaf in nonya spices. She shut her menu.
These niggles aside, it's a very fine book.