pamflet salon & the slap

At the latest pamflet salon we discussed, among other things, the booker-nominated ‘state of the nation’ aussie novel by christos tsiolkas, The Slap. Very mixed reactions to this one, overall not positive. The swearing and macho tone seemed to put everyone off and a lot of us felt that the writer didn’t quite pull off the chapters which came from the women’s perspectives. But we all agreed one of the most moving passages was the description of teens at the music festival (although do aussie kids generally shoot up before going to listen to lily allen? really?! this was one of the many cultural differences we quizzed our poor tokenaussiegirl, Maggie, on.)

All the books we have read so far have been modern, which has taken me waaay out of my comfort zone. But it’s been good – I’ve got a lot out of all of them. Except The Slap – there’s no denying it’s skillfully written – it seems to hold a mirror up to modern life and you could easily imagine it transposed to another country with the same types of people and the same situation. But is that all we want from a book? It’s not enough for me to marvel at a writer’s skill in accurately reflecting the society they live in with pinpoint precision. I want something more, and I can’t describe it precisely (or without sounding uberpretentious), but it’s something like needing to be nourished, moved, enriched or enlightened in some way.

I think that’s why I prefer books written in another age, because a) they’ve stood the test of time so they clearly have some merit (I don’t have much confidence in my own judgement as a reader, and am a major late-adopter, so prefer it when books have been pre-approved by generations before me!) and b) they offer an insight into another age – it’s like a history lesson plus novel. And somehow, writing from an earlier age – whether it’s Somerset Maugham, or Edith Wharton, or Rosamond Lehmann, just seems… better. Like they’re less afraid to get ‘wordy’, less self-conscious about pontificating on the human condition, or spending pages painstakingly describing a room, just for the sheer beauty and skill of it.

There’s no urgent desire to be crude or controversial (something Slap-man might want to consider) just to get readers spluttering in indignation. And also, why do angry, dark, glass-half-full books always get taken seriously – why are they considered as more credible than novels that look on the brighter side of life? It’s that old Shakespeare thing again – tragedy always taken more seriously than comedy, it’s always the drama that bags the Oscar, never the funny film. What’s that all about? Life has good and bad, denying the former and elevating the latter in order to be taken seriously seems a dreadful shame. Writers of days gone by seemed to understand that – they weren’t afraid to mix pathos and farce in the same pages, maybe they managed it because they were just better writers…

this was one of the issues we discussed in the salon. what else did we chat about? argh i can’t remember – fellow salon members, help me out! There was something about girls being good at maths (or not) and if that’s gender-specific and some-such jazz. and bits about being the odd-girl-out at school and how this is a Good Thing (didn’t feel like it at the time but anyway…). Anyone?

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