Christos Tsiolkas’s The Slap was short-listed for the 2009 Miles Franklin Award, won the 2009 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, and was made into a TV series currently airing on ABC1. While there’s been recent discussion about violent sexuality and the Internet, there hasn’t been a comparably high-profile debate about its presentation in Australian fiction. The Slap presents sexual acts that are, or verge on, the violent, but does it offer any critical understanding of them? It’s necessary to get a sense of the material and the following excerpt, bearing the imprimatur of prestigious literary awards, suffices to do so:
He opened his eyes and raised his head to look at his wife. He tried to pull her up.
‘No,’ Sandi whispered. ‘I want you to come in my mouth. I want you to fuck my mouth.’
‘Are you sure?’
The pornographic words excited him.
‘Fuck my mouth,’ she urged and took his cock once more inside her. He closed his eyes again and this time he thrust his body into her mouth…He continued fucking his wife in the mouth. He could see her gagging but when he stopped his thrusting she clutched his arse and pushed him deep into her. He blew his cheeks out, stifled his shout and came with savage force. Sandi refused to release him. He spasmed and fell against the bedhead. He didn’t look at Sandi as she went to the bathroom. He heard the tap run and he knew she would be cleaning her teeth again. He smiled sheepishly at her when she returned to bed. She picked up her gift again and lay in bed looking at it. He rolled over and spooned her into his body.
‘That couldn’t have been much fun for you.’
She was examining the music box.
‘I enjoy making love to you. You don’t have to thank me. You’re my husband.’
‘My cock thanks you.’
Even if Sandi were being hurt in this scene the novel might be only presenting us with one of our culture’s sexual practices. It’s also important to acknowledge that some people don’t think throat-gagging sex is violent or see it to be ‘playing with violence’ in desirable ways. However, problems persist despite these considerations. The first is that almost every sex scene in The Slap is violent or borders on violence.
The second problem is that the directing agency of almost every sex scene is located in a woman. This repetition of a very particular gender dynamic of sexual violence reveals a deep anxiety in the Tsiolkas novel. Why is so much of its focus spent making readers know that it is women who direct confused or willing men to hurt or approach hurting them? But before answering this it’s worth taking another turn.
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