The ALS Gold Medal for 2008 has been awarded to Christos Tsiolkas’ The Slap (Allen & Unwin).

The Walter McRae Russell Award has been given to Noel Rowe’s Ethical Investigations: Essays on Australian Literature and Poetics, ed. Bernadette Brennan, (Vagabond Press).

The ALS Gold Medal for 2008 has been awarded to Christos Tsiolkas’ The Slap (Allen & Unwin).

Judges’ report:

The Slap is a novel that, like much of Tsiolkas’ work, sparks discussion and controversy. There is a raw energy in Tsiolkas’ prose that is an exciting and challenging force in contemporary Australian writing.  Tsiolkas is not afraid to unsettle and to shock and on some levels The Slap is an unsettling, shocking narrative.  The Slap unfolds as a kind of edgy, melodramatic soap opera about a group of middle-class Australians of various ethnic backgrounds struggling to make sense of their lives.

In Dead Europe, which we feel operates as a powerful companion piece to this novel, Tsiolkas positions his protagonist on a European stage (or within a European underworld) as a means of asking difficult questions about history, race, ethnicity, religion, capitalism, hatred, good and evil.  Through its expansive perspective and engagement with Western history, literature and cinema, Dead Europe invites readers to consider aspects of Australian society and politics within a broad international sphere. The Slap quite deliberately takes a quintessential Australian domestic situation, the backyard barbeque, as the focal point through which to dissect the inner workings of urban Australian middle-class society.  The Slap’s forensic study of middle Australia feels at first more familiar and accommodating than the terrifying journey of Dead Europe. Ultimately, however, it draws us deep into a monumental array of individual lives, social patterns and moral dilemmas, sketching a textured and complex account of the suburban frames of contemporary life. In place of the haunted but singular protagonist of the earlier work, Tsiolkas provides the shifting perspectives of eight narrative voices, which circle the central moral dilemma of the novel without resolution. What we have instead is a compelling account of our own world, and a reminder of how circumscribed are our moral decisions and perspectives.

The incident that provides the title of this novel is the slap of a young child by a man who is not a relative at a family barbeque.  The novel’s structure provides insights from the perspectives of a range of very different and somewhat flawed characters: characters that include adolescents experimenting with sexuality and drugs; middle-aged women, some in control of their professional and sexual lives others not; sexually-voracious heterosexual husbands and fathers; and the old Greek parents Manolis and Koula.  Taken together these stories weave a broad canvas of multi-ethnic, urban existence, a sense of how these characters struggle to lead worthwhile lives in a materialistic, twenty-first century Australia.  And always beneath and through these stories there percolates a barely contained, threatening – and to some, perhaps thrilling – frustration and anger.

Of note is Tsiolkas’ portrait of Manolis as he muses about failure and death. Manolis’ testimony presents something fresh and interesting in Australian writing: the realignment of family arrangements, the reassessment of cultural values and mores, the reminiscence of home, the feelings of powerlessness, as felt by an old Greek immigrant.

In The Slap Tsiolkas demonstrates his concern about how our children are being raised but he also celebrates the potential of adolescents, in all their confusion and uncertainty, to be good people. Tsiolkas leaves us with a sense of possibility – both the promise and the risk – in the novel’s final open-ended moment, directing a thoughtful and newly complex attention to the pressing concerns of everyday lives.

The Slap builds on Tsiolkas’ earlier novels about life in Melbourne, Loaded and The Jesus Man and demonstrates, with Dead Europe, Jump Cuts: An Autobiography, his plays ‘Whose Afraid of The Working Class?’, ‘Blue Poles’ and ‘Elektra AD’, and his essay on ‘Tolerance’, an increasing range of interests and styles. He is now one of the most important writers working in Australia.
The judges for this award were: Bernadette Brennan (USYD), Brigitta Olubas (UNSW) and Susan Lever (USYD)
Of note:

In 2008 a significant number of established, award-winning Australian poets and novelists published impressive new work.  Equally impressive, however, was the publication of a considerable number of excellent books by talented new writers. The strength of this new writing bodes well for Australian literature in the years to come.

Seventy-three books, submitted by twelve publishers, were considered for the 2008 ALS Gold Medal Award.  The diversity of entries is reflected in our shortlist which includes poetry, short stories, novels and a collective biography.

Short List (in alphabetical order):

Divine Comedy: Journeys through a regional geography.   John Kinsella (UQP)
Her Father’s Daughter.  John Clanchy  (UQP)
House of Exile: The Life and Times of Heinrich Mann and Nelly Kroeger-Mann.
Evelyn Juers (Giramondo)
Telling a Hawk from a Handsaw.  Chris Wallace-Crabbe (Carcenet Press)
The Slap.  Christos Tsiolkas  (Allen & Unwin)
The Spare Room.  Helen Garner (Text)