In 2009, a novel entitled The Slap occasioned considerable hand-wringing and chest-thumping within certain literary circles, a chorus which reached its crescendo when the book was long-listed for the Man Booker Prize in 2010. The story of the unexpected and wide-ranging effects of the smacking of a child by a man who is not his father, The Slap features foul language, pornography, and an instance of almost every bigotry it might be possible to imagine. Its author, Christos Tsiolkas, defended his novel's at times blatant attention seeking in large part by claiming that he envisaged the work as a sort of "state of the nation" address for a multicultural Australia seething with unspoken—and unspeakable—tensions. Tsiolkas, himself the progeny of immigrant Greeks, depicted an Australia in a polite, middle class kind of crisis, aware of the contradictions and meaningless shibboleths on which its society was built, but unable and unwilling to be brave enough to address them.
In the wake of that novel comes a collection of further Australian fictions which in rather different ways explore somewhat similar ground. Sprawl, published by Twelfth Planet Press, is an anthology of eighteen works which refract Australian suburbia through the prism of the fantastic. Quite often, the stories walk the same in-between streets as The Slap: multiculturalism figures strongly, as do various kinds of repressed sexuality, hypocritical finger pointing, and bourgeois guilt. The varied tone inherent to a collection, however, enables Sprawl to escape The Slap's almost monotonous voice, one of the most fatal of its several weaknesses.
Tsiolkas gained notoriety for practicing a kind of writing almost indecently separated from that of the older, patrician generation of Australian novelists—Peter Carey, Thomas Keneally. In Sprawl, however, we see another, quieter and yet infinitely stranger, new Australian generation at work. It's something of a pleasure.
I don't know if I agree with what he says about Tsiolkas (the author of Loaded and Dead Europe is hardly attempting something new in confrontational content with the Slap) but you know, the review is quite positive of the book, and there's nothing wrong with that. For myself, however, what was said by my piece?
there are some duff notes: I've never rubbed along with Ben Peek's writing, and his portentous "White Crocodile Jazz" has done nothing to change my mind
But I'm named checked next to Anna Tambour as failing to deliver, and if you can't appreciate Anna, and you toss me in with her, I'm doing alright by my count. So go check out the review, go check out the book.