Barracuda by Christos Tsiolkas: Book Review

Barracuda’ is the fifth novel by the acclaimed Christos Tsiolkas. After spending some time in the west coast of Scotland, the novel spans both Scotland and his native Australia, inspiring many of the comparisons present in the book. It tells the story of Daniel Kelly whose childhood dream is to become the best Olympic swimming champion in the world.

“I am the fastest, the strongest, and the best”. This mantra is repeated again and again by Danny at his new posh private school to help him rise up against the bullies and become the best swimmer. Both Danny and the water are one and the same. They flow together to wash away the trouble in his life and push him towards something better. Danny is a ferocious character and he strives to achieve what he wants in life no matter at what cost. This attitude wins him the respect of his classmates and swimming coach. However, this places a great strain upon his family. Tsiolkas provokes the question of how much parents should encourage their children in their talents. Whether Danny’s mother’s devotion or his father’s silent pride is the best approach.

The story of Danny’s childhood days as a swimmer is interwoven with the present day where we find him in Scotland with a phobia of swimming, meaning that he did not get his vindication after all. His journey from boy-wonder to the present is pocketed with alcohol abuse, violence and a struggle to atone for his actions. Throughout the novel there is always a fight; he fight between himself and his competitors, the fights between his parents over how to nurture his talent, and the fight within himself. Danny’s character is also in a constant state of flux and this is reflected through the remaking and changing of his name. From Danny, Dino, Barracuda to Dan; his nickname reflects the ups and downs of his swimming career and personal life and constant confusion both sexually and class-wise.

This brutally honest piece of work heavily criticises the Australian class system, disparity of wealth, racism and the treatment of migrants. Tsiolkas contrasts these chronic problems to Scotland and how the working classes, in particular, view themselves. Also, he looks at how possible it is for us to recreate and absolve ourselves.

Barracuda’ is set to be just as successful as ‘The Slap’ and Tsiolkas is a truly, brilliant writer. His talent with words and ability to address such provocative and antagonistic topics in a brutal, brazen way is unmatched. The language used is at times rather explicit. For example, his school is referred to as “Cunts” College. This goes alongside explicit descriptions of normal human acts like urination and defecation which is part of Tsiolkas’ frank writing style that mimics the lives of normal people without any ornamented sentiments. ‘Barracuda’ should definitely be on everyone’s ‘To Read’ list.


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