In Melbourne, Australia, Hector and Aisha are hosting a big barbecue for their families and friends who come with several children. Hector’s somewhat controlling Greek parents appear too, bringing along too much food and their chronic disapproval of his non-Greek wife despite the two healthy grandkids and her success as a veterinarian. Aisha’s less-well-off friends, Rosie and Gary, arrive with their cherubic-looking son, Hugo, who at age three, is still breastfed and being raised according to a hippie parenting style that manages to be both sheltering and permissive. Hugo has a meltdown over a cricket game, which the older kids have let him join.  He raises a bat to strike another child, when Hector’s cousin, Harry, intervenes to protect his own son. Hugo kicks Harry who slaps him. Rosie and Gary call it child abuse and notify the police. 

The aftermath of the slap is told in several fulsome chapters, each devoted to a different individual’s perspective: among them, Hector, Aisha, Harry, Rosie, Hector’s father, and the teenaged babysitter Connie. Harry is rendered miserable by Rosie and Gary’s aggressive lawsuit against him. Connie believes she is in love with a philandering, substance-abusing Hector who in turn has unscrupulously led her on. Recognizing its alienation of her friends, Rosie sticks to her legal pursuit of Harry although she worries about the drain on their meagre finances, the exposure of Gary's drinking, and the anticipated criticism of their parenting style. Aisha is fed up with her husband’s edginess and submission to his parents, and she flirts with escape in the form of a handsome stranger at a conference. 


A brilliant, award-winning novel that peers into the lives of “ordinary” people connected by family, friendship, love, and intolerance. Like a thought experiment, it explores how a single, seemingly small incident sparks a multiplicity of reactions and subtends dramatic changes in the lives of this small circle. In that way it is reminiscent of several works by Ian McEwan's, such as Atonement, The Children Act and especially, On Chesil Beach.

Several aspects of this novel invite “teaching moments.” First, the “cherubic” Hugo is a difficult child, but it is never clear if his problem is nature or nurture, while his doting parents are convinced that he is perfect. Second, the clash of ethnicities for the hide-bound traditional Greek parents and the daughter-in-law of east Indian descent display the dimensions of cultural chauvinism and racism in a diverse world. Finally, the marital problems of the couples test their bonds and are exacerbated by the needs of their children. 


The novel has been adapted for television in Australia and the United States.


Allen & Unwin (Australia); Penguin (USA), Harper (Canada)

Place Published

Sydney, New York, Toronto



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