December 26

Barracuda by Christos Tsiolkas

This is the story of a swimmer; Danny. With a burning, tormented ambition to be the fastest, strongest, greatest swimmer of his time, his turbulent adolescent mind is only at rest in the pool.    

Christos Tsiolkas is most known for his international bestselling novel, the Slap. Now an Australian classic, The Slap was a polorising look into modern Australia laced with judgement, anger and morality. Barracuda raises similar themes and confirms Tsiolkas as an author clearly fascinated by the dark side of human nature.  In Danny’s story, Tsiolkas looks at the Australian psyche in sport and what it takes to win.

The eldest son to a migrant working class family, Danny decided early on he would be an Olympic champion and lift them from their position. His family gave up much to send him to the best school with the best coach and worked night and day to support him in his dreams.  If only that was all he needed to success.  Mix in puberty, sexuality, racial prejudice, family, money, society and even Danny’s broad swimming shoulders couldn’t cope with all the chips he was carrying around on them.

I wrestled through much of this book; flinching at the language, the pride of it all but I finished it and I am glad I did. I can’t help but think the premise of a child growing up through competitive sport is enough for a  great story and some of Tsiolkas’ best writing was around the pressures and pleasures of swimming, racing and competing. Danny’s angst will stick with me for years to come.   

Just like it’s main character however, I felt the flaws in the book were more apparent out of the pool.  Maybe I am missing something but the extra story lines left it feeling cluttered and in many ways, dated.  Ouch.