Published by Hogarth on 9 September 2014
Genres: Adult Fiction, Literary Fiction
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At fifteen, Danny Kelly is living a typical middle class Melbourne life: his mother is single, a hairdresser, and raising three kids in a tiny flat. Danny spends most afternoons with his best friend Demet, listening to Nirvana records and dreaming of the future. But there's one thing that sets Danny apart from his peers: he is an extraordinarily talented swimmer who has the potential to swim for Australia in the Olympics. His ability lifts him into a new and unrecognizable world, an elite school where his classmates' families own summer estates and where the competition is fiercer than any he has faced before.
Twenty years later, Danny is in Scotland with his partner, reflecting on the life his talents and mistakes have sculpted, when a family member from his past issues a cry for help, and Danny must decide if he's truly ready to return home.
Intimate, beautifully written and emotionally profound, Barracuda is a striking meditation on class, competition and the sacrifices we make for those we love.
Out of sheer curiosity I sorted my Goodreads TBR list (all 106 of them) by descending order based on the average rating. Right at the very bottom was Christos Tsiolkas’ controversial The Slap with a measly 3.11. This did not bode well for my next ARC by the same author – Barracuda (kindly supplied by Netgalley). I expected to meet characters I disliked; choppy, fragmented narrative; and some pretty in-your-face grit that was rather uncomfortable to read. Well, I was right. It was all of those things – and I really enjoyed it.
Barracuda follows the story of Daniel Kelly – an on-the-rise star of swimming. Plucked from his working class neighbourhood, a scholarship places him at a prestigious boys high school, where he has to endure bullying and isolation. The novel examines the extents to which we will go to fulfil our dreams, and the shattering consequences that occur when our expectations fall short.
The characters in the book are mostly unlikable (I did like Dan’s mother – Stephanie, and his best friend Demet.) although I think they are very realistic portrayals. I’m not sure what that says about the kind of people I know, but I think that there is a darkness in all of us, just as there is light. Some reviewers have labelled Danny as “wooden and self-indulgent” and while I agree with the latter, I believe Danny is a very complex and interesting character.
There are a lot of ‘time-jumps’ during the narrative and I sometimes had to flip back to try and understand the timeline, but I quickly got used to it, and soon the narrative flowed.
Tsiolkas does not shy away from the gritty reality, so be prepared for some uncomfortable descriptions (at one point we get a really vivid description of Danny’s diarrhoea, along with the charming smells that accompany it – TMI!)
In the end the story is about the price you pay to reclaim your life.
I enjoyed Tsiolkas’ writing, and despite the low average user rating, I am going to read The Slap anyway.