Review: Barracuda by Christos Tsiolkas

Title: Barracuda

Author: Christos Tsiolkas

Published: Allen & Unwin November 2013

Status: Read from November 06 to 09, 2013 — I own a copy {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

“I’m the strongest, I’m the fastest, I’m the best”

Swimming is not only what Danny Kelly does, it defines who he is and who he will be. His talent wins him a scholarship at an exclusive private boy’s school where, amongst his privileged rivals, he earns the nickname of ‘The Barracuda’. Danny is a winner, on track to be an Olympic champion, until the day he loses and it all falls apart.

Shifting between Danny’s past and the present using a first person and third person narrative, Tsiolkas drives the story towards the event that divides ‘before’ and ‘after’. Before, Danny was a young boy, confident, aggressive and ambitious, with the talent and the drive to be a champion. After, Danny was a young man, ashamed, bitter and directionless, alienated from his family, his friends and himself.

Barracuda is a story about character, the way in which it is formed, influenced and changed by family, by friends, and enemies, by experience and knowledge, and for Danny especially, by life’s triumphs and failures. It is also a story about identity and when what Danny believes about himself is proved false, he struggles to deal with the consequences. Tsiolkas exposes Danny’s dreams and hopes, his vulnerabilities and his faults with unflinching honesty and keen insight into the thoughts and emotions of both the boy, and the man.

Wider themes of the novel include those of identity, class and status in modern day Australia. The Kelly’s working class background, dad is a truck driver and mum a hairdresser, contrasts with the privileged lives of his wealthy classmates. Similarly Danny is half ‘wog’ (Greek) and half Scottish while the majority of students at C***s College are white with “their perfect smiles and perfect skin”. Danny acutely feels the divide and he is both scornful and envious.

Barracuda also raises the issue of sport and it’s contribution to Australia’s national identity. Sport is one arena where wealth and class become irrelevant, with innate talent leveling the playing field. It is Danny’s ability to out swim his peers that allows him to hold his own, and when he loses that, he also sees his opportunity to one day be of ‘them’ slip through his fingers.

Tsiolkas’s casual use of crude language has the potential to offend but I thought the distinctly Australian dialogue to be natural and appropriate. What surprised me were the moments of poetry in Tsiolkas’s writing, lyrical phrasing and evocative description contrasting sharply with the blunter passages. I do feel Barracuda was a little overlong, though I admit only rarely did I find my attention wandering.

Barracuda is a powerful novel, less sensational than The Slap, but similarly provocative and thought provoking. I enjoyed it, but I think it is a book you will either love or hate.

Available to Purchase From

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5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. booksaremyfavouriteandbest
    Nov 17, 2013 @ 16:02:11

    I finished this book weeks ago…still haven’t finished my review – so much to say, it’s hard to know where to begin.

    Reply

  2. Kate Loveday
    Nov 19, 2013 @ 08:29:59

    This review makes me keen to read this book. It sounds riveting.thanks for another insightful review Shelleyrae.

    Reply

  3. Lesdemac
    Nov 22, 2013 @ 12:57:34

    I’m sorry but I thought it was disgusting. Of course people will carry on about the writing etc, but it’s not a book I’d recommend to anyone. The idea was ok, but such blatant description turned me off. No real problem with the language, except there was too much. My opinion is that the story was overdone, and would have been better if it hadn’t been so explicit. But I know I won’t be reading anymore from this author.

    Reply

  4. Trackback: Review: Barracuda | Giraffe Days

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