At a suburban barbeque, where family and friends of Hector and Aisha have gathered, a misbehaving child is slapped by an unrelated man.
The boy’s face had gone dark with fury. He raised his foot and kicked wildly into Harry’s shin…he saw his cousin’s raised arm, it spliced the air, and then he saw the open palm descend and strike the boy. The slap seemed to echo. It cracked the twilight. – p. 40
And so begins the story. The novel is narrated through eight of the characters, of various ages, who were present at the barbeque. What transcends is an intricate detailing and commentary of modern suburban life. There is the idea of marriage and what it means: for the middle-aged couple, Hector and Aisha, whose marriage have become stalemate and both approaching their potential mid-life crisis; for Hector’s elderly father, a nice juxtaposition, once a hard done migrant from Greece who worked hard to raise a family who now ponders the meaning of life while watching the lives around him slowly dissipate.
There is also the questions of raising children, the idea of discipline and restraints and what it means to be a parent. There is Anouk, who is successful, well-paid scriptwriter for a trashy soap but desires nothing more than to be serious author but is afraid to make the jump. She finds herself pregnant to her actor boyfriend who is younger than her by twenty years. There is Rosie, the mother of the misbehaving child, Hugo, who cannot seem to accept her situation in life and refuses to see her reality. She refuses to accept her husband is an alcoholic and refuses to set boundaries for Hugo. The question of child-rearing in today’s society is questioned when the next generation do no understand that enough is enough, when too far is too far and that there is a line that cannot be crossed.
The ideas of friendship and family plays a significant role. There is the question of where loyalties should lie. This is particularly emphasised as Hector’s family are Greek, where family is everything, while Aisha believes her loyalties should lie with her friends.
There are so many other interesting issues weaved throughout the novel: the idea of status, of private schooling, domestic abuse, sexuality, love, dreams, sex, drugs, race and ethnicity. Above all, the idea of what is means to be a grown up, an adult.
The novel is an interesting exploration of what it means to live in our society today and Christos Tsiolkas is a fantastic writer. While the idea of eight different narratives put me off at first, it is ultimately a smooth and seamless flow throughout the novel. I did not get attached to any of the characters because none of them were particularly likeable but it was precisely that quality that I liked the novel – the deeply flawed characters. And I’ve got to say, it was particularly fun to read about my city in a novel.