To quote the back cover:
At a suburban barbecue one afternoon, a man slaps an unruly boy.
The boy is not his son.
This single act of violence reverberates through the lives of everyone who witnesses it happen…
In each chapter, we get a snapshot of the life of one of those persons. The man who gives the slap; the boy’s mother; their friends and relatives. Every chapter broadens our picture of their relationships, backgrounds, characters.
They’re all connected by more than that one event, of course. They wouldn’t have been at the barbecue if they didn’t know each other. Some are cousins, husbands and wives. Some are childhood friends, some are colleagues. So some parts of their lives overlap. But we also see the aspects of each life that are private, that they don’t show to their friends. And of course we see how differently two people can view the same things.
It’s an interesting idea, but I found the actual contents disappointing. It’s all one giant soap opera. Everybody does drugs; everybody is an adulterer; every relationship dysfunctional. (Oh, look, it’s even been turned into a TV series.)
It’s also a cruel, merciless, loveless book. Almost everybody in the book is miserable, full of contempt and anger against the others. And I absolutely believe that it is possible to write a great book about ugly people – but basically I just don’t like this author’s world view, and don’t enjoy reading a book like this.
What is the point of this book? What did he try to achieve? It sure doesn’t feel like he wants to tell a great story. The story-telling and the writing are pretty bland and mediocre. The characters are predictable and, in fact, all very similar to each other. I don’t care about any of them. There are no surprises.
Makes me wonder how much of the book is attention seeking, banal “like whoring”. Start with slapping a child, and then put in as much drug use, alcoholism, adultery, swearing, racism, everyday violence, teenage sex etc etc as possible, so as to shock (which seems to be almost required of modern literature). Slap your readers in the face.
Or maybe that’s what life in Australian suburbia is really like. Good thing I’m not living there.
I read the first few chapters and then just skimmed through the rest. I have no idea how it ended up on the short-list for the Man Booker Prize, or why anybody would describe it as a modern masterpiece.
More here, if you’re interested (and do read the comments as well).