June 01, 2009

AWRF 2009: Meeting Tsiolkas


Saturday afternoon I was driving lackadaisically down New North Rd. when a dangling sign caught my eye. “Mt. Albert Veterinary Centre”.  I pictured Aisha on duty inside, looking Michelle Obama-style gorgeous in a white lab coat. And Connie was there too, sitting on a bench, detachedly wiggling her toes in dirty pink shoes. A second later, as the sign jumped to my rear-view mirror, I realized that Aisha and Connie live in Melbourne, and also, they are characters in a novel.

A quote that’s gotten a lot of publicity about The Slap, the book in which they appear, is that it’s a satanic “Neighbours”. I haven’t seen "Neighbours"; still, I’ve done a fair amount of TV in my life and my intuition is that it is far more correct to say that "Neighbours" is a vapidThe Slap.

Christos Tsiolkas - image by Zoe Ali. For this book about modern Australia, after he wrote about old Europe in Dead Europe, Christos Tsiolkas used what he calls a Rashomon structure, after the classic Japanese movie which tells the story of a rape from many points of view. Here the rape is a slap, although the turmoil it creates among these Australian suburbanite twenties-thirties-somethings implies the inverse. The fact is, they don’t have an awful lot of other things going on to distract them. They aren’t very perceptive. They are greedy. They aren’t very likable. But I loved seeing inside their heads. It became impossible to put the book down: I was rushing downstream on the current of its revelations.

“I like the teenagers and the old man.” Christos Tsiolkas says to me when I get to talk to him. The ‘s’ sound is the particularity of the Greek language, there are lots of them, and they are softer than ours, sliding almost into ‘sh’ . Christos Tsiolkas has that ‘s’ when he speaks English. He speaks quickly, and he laughs easily and he says “Manolis-sh” for Manolis, who is that old man. He explains that he put Manolis-sh in because he wanted a character who would bring gravity into his story. I was reminded of the sweeping judgment a famous Italian architect delivered when they asked him why there were so few great women architects. “Women have no sense of the grave.” he said. The Greek words for ‘grave’ are sovaros – severe, austeros -- austere, and agrios – cruel, fierce and proud. 

Christos Tsiolkas is not grave but -- to use a Gertrude-Steinian turn of phrase -- I sense he has a sense of the grave. His literary love is Philip Roth, that author famed for being witty about sex, but also about death. The day after talking to CT, I came across a shiny new copy of Exit Ghost at the library, and I thought of him and opened it to have a look.
“You’re writing about the family business, are you?”

He nodded and he shrugged and he sighed. “And the family. I’m trying to, anyway. I more or less grew up in the store.  I’ve heard a thousand stories from my grandfather. Every time I go to see him I fill another notebook. I’ve got stories enough to last a lifetime. But it’s all a matter of how, isn’t it? I mean, how you tell them.”

Read the interview with Christos Tsiolkas.

Ditulis Oleh : tosca // 02:30
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