As a fan of Tsiolkas’ book The Slap, I was rather concerned and quite apprehensive about its migration to the small screen. After all, so many adaptations of late have been subpar (think the latest Dorian Grey, Jane Eyre and Eat, Pray, Love).
In my eyes, the intimacy created between reader and character through knowing what each and every character in the book was thinking, was the book’s strongpoint. Its binding matter if you like. So, naturally, I wondered about how the integrity of this was going to be maintained on television. Aside from the use of voice overs, which are rarely employed effectively, I wasn’t sure that this transition could be achieved without sacrificing the book’s subtleties. Also, each page of the book had something simmering under the surface. The book was so much more than the words on its pages (I know, sounds impossible but just think about it). Something altogether mysterious and uncomfortable and, at times, outright upsetting was happening with every turn of the page. That couldn’t possible be conveyed on television. Could it?
image by anslatadams
Three episodes in (just to make sure that episodes 1 and 2 weren’t some freak anomaly) and I’m both pleasantly surprised and relieved; because I was right … and wrong. Right in that all the things that made the book so raw, confronting and *insert ‘Tsiolkas’ adjective*, haven’t and couldn’t be translated into the small screen after all but, I was wrong – very wrong actually – in the fears that I had about the series being subpar. It’s spectacular.
At the panel discussion that I attended as part of MIFF, Tsiolkas spoke about the series as representing something that “wasn’t his” anymore; as something different altogether – its own thing. And I think this is where the strength of the series lies. Had the directors / writers attempted to replicate the book word for word, I imagine that the final product would be something rather confused and disjointed. The binding matter of the series, if you like, is the artistic licence that the writers and directors have taken with it. Its strongpoint is that it’s not the book The Slap. And this, I believe, owes very much to Tsiolkas’ ability to hand his baby over to someone else to look after, without apprehension or fear.
All the discussions that I’ve participated in about the series have been positive, with the exception of a few ‘preference critiques’: I would have preferred it if the actor cast as Anouk was younger; I would have preferred Hector’s Greek to have been more fluent; I would have preferred it if there were no voice overs. The criticisms haven’t been major though and the series has largely been embraced – even by people who were “almost not going to watch it” as they disliked the novel itself. I was actually quite shocked when one of these friends turned around to me last night and said, “I like the series better than the book… I didn’t want to know all those things that [the characters in the book] were thinking when I was reading it.” Which is fair enough -Tsiolkas isn’t for everyone. That wasn’t what shocked me about her statement. What shocked me was that this said friend found the series less confronting than the book; easier to digest…
Despite their differences, I think that the series and the novel, ultimately, do the same thing. If anything I’m finding the series more confronting than the novel. In the novel, Harry abusing his wife was in my head, the infamous slap was a tap across Hugo’s cheek and Connie was far more timid and less forthright. In the series, Harry abuses his wife in front of me, Hugo is belted across the face and Connie is, well, outright promiscuous and slutty. It’s right there in front of me in the series. And even more confronting than this is the fact that these portrayals of violence, seduction and domestic abuse are so real. I have a wonderfully solid relationship with my husband and for the entire duration of Harry’s episode I found myself questioning the unconditional trust that I have in him – and us. Sandy dotes on her husband, I kept thinking to myself, and she has no idea about his infidelity. The episode scared me shitless. My life foundations, that I rarely or never questioned, were being shattered – by a television series. The tension in our living room was palpable after the episode ended. What was this thing that my husband and I watched religiously on a Thursday evening? *insert some sort of Hitchcock music* It was us. Our families. Our friends. Our apparently perfect lives.
The series’ opening credits sum it up beautifully. A plate falls to the ground to the sound of music that can clearly be identified as Greek. As it hits the ground it shatters, its pieces flying off into countless directions, like the ripples that emanate from the stone that’s thrown into a still body of water. In Greek tradition, smashing plates is the ultimate symbol of what Greeks refer to as “glendi”, which can loosely be translated as something that encompasses the ideas of festivity, joy and celebration, all at once. In this series, the image is turned on its head to represent the literal shattering and destruction of lives and homes; families and relationships. The shattering plate sets the series up simply and yet with such haunting accuracy. Things in this series will most definitely not be what they seem, that plate cautions us – and on so many levels.
When the book was released, I struggled to bring to mind a work that was a better, more honest and confronting representation of 21st century domestic Australian life. Now with the release of the television series, I find myself in a similarly uncomfortable, yet proud, position.
What have your experiences with the book / series been?
You can watch The Slap, 8.30 pm every Thurday on ABC1.