Saturday, 29 January 2011

Unsamaritans Book Group 28.01.11

The book: The Slap, by Christos Tsiolkas
The venue: James and Sarah's house

I'm sure Mr Tsiolkas didn't deliberately set out to write The Ultimate All-Boxes-Ticked Book Group Novel, but one wonders if a small part of his brain was imagining, as he wrote this story of the consequences of a man slapping a friend's child, thousands upon thousands of wine fueled suburban debates being sparked off by it. It certainly did the trick for us.

Mind you, the ethics of child discipline wasn't the first topic we got into. Did this story tell us anything about Australia? Was it a universal examination of the immigrant experience, or is the Australian version unique? Are men expert at concealing their animal nature, and does this book show us as we truly are?

But eventually, and inevitably, we got on to the slapping debate. Does it matter whether hitting a child is done in anger or cold blood? Is it relevant that belting other peoples' kids was the norm within living memory? Is it possible to have a good relationship with a relative who hit you when you were young?

I only managed a third of the book and found it compelling, but I probably won't finish it, not least because the consensus was that the novel didn't really deliver in the end.

Only Frances really hated the book, and I think only Geoffrey loved it. I suspect we'll remember it more positively as a discussion starter than a novel.

The evening was enlivened by a joyful and surprising announcement from one of our number: yes, Geoffrey offered to host. This was a first. We were shocked, we were moved, we offered, only partly satirically, to come in evening dress.

In a mood of giddy elation, we set about devising some awards for the night. Suggestions ranged from the predictable (best book discussion ever) to thought-provoking (most interesting member's input) to the blatantly provocative (least number of books read). The latter, not surprisingly, proposed by James, while staring at Jamie.

Our discussion took place over a fine vegetable gobi, with superb chutneys provided by Claire, and plenty of naan and samosas.

Sarah presented us with a shortlist of three books for the next meeting: Red Dust Road by Jackie Kay, Blood River by Tim Butcher and the winner Alone In Berlin by Hans Fallada. The date is Friday 11th May.