Academic journal article Transnational Literature

Christos Tsiolkas, Barracuda (Allen and Unwin, 2013)

Academic journal article Transnational Literature

Christos Tsiolkas, Barracuda (Allen and Unwin, 2013)

Article excerpt

Barracuda is Danny Kelly, totally dedicated to becoming a world champion swimmer whatever the cost. Barracuda is Christos Tsiolkas's searing account of his inner life, from the child Danny to the man Dan. Danny's Dad is a truck driver, his Mum is a hairdresser, they live in 'dirty-pissy-scummy Reservoir' in Melbourne's suburban north-east. But Danny's drive and talent win him a swimming scholarship at a private school known to us only as 'Cunt's College' where he has to find his way among the spoilt sons of the rich and privileged. Never believe anyone who says there are no class divisions in Australia.

I could write about the narrative structure (complex but tight as a drum) and the characterisation (unnervingly recognisable); the point of view (always Dan/Danny's, but switching from first to third-person) and voice (urgent, unrelenting). If I analysed all that I could find out something about how Tsiolkas compelled me to keep reading through all the venom and shame and hatred of the first part of this novel. I could write about symbolism and patterning (all precisely controlled and orchestrated) and themes, values, morality, even politics (all explicable and powerfully managed) - what he is saying - but that would be a poor surrogate for the experience of reading, fighting through, this novel. What I want to write about, if I can, is how it feels to be trapped in the thwarted, constricted mind of this young man for the few days it takes to read his story. By degrees it becomes unsettling, then upsetting, then distressing. The boy Danny is so terrifyingly at the mercy of his own driving ambition and the expectations of his family and his snarling coach, so coldly single-minded in his repudiation of everything which might impede him - his swimming rivals, any sexual release and its resulting enervation, the slightest nick in his perfect skin - that he lives on a knife-edge of violence, hatred and shame, and the sense of impending catastrophe is almost overwhelming. The man Dan is shamed by his failure, haunted by despair and hopelessness, dogged by self-loathing. …

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