Barracuda – Christos Tsiolkas

Barracuda – Christos TsiolkasBarracuda by Christos Tsiolkas
Published by Allen & Unwin on November 1st 2013
Pages: 516

Fourteen-year-old Daniel Kelly is special. Despite his upbringing in working-class Melbourne, he knows that his astonishing ability in the swimming pool has the potential to transform his life, silence the rich boys at the private school to which he has won a sports scholarship, and take him far beyond his neighborhood, possibly to international stardom and an Olympic medal. Everything Danny has ever done, every sacrifice his family has ever made, has been in pursuit of this dream--but what happens when the talent that makes you special fails you? When the goal that you’ve been pursuing for as long as you can remember ends in humiliation and loss?

Twenty years later, Dan is in Scotland, terrified to tell his partner about his past, afraid that revealing what he has done will make him unlovable. When he is called upon to return home to his family, the moment of violence in the wake of his defeat that changed his life forever comes back to him in terrifying detail, and he struggles to believe that he’ll be able to make amends. Haunted by shame, Dan relives the intervening years he spent in prison, where the optimism of his childhood was completely foreign.

Tender, savage, and blazingly brilliant, Barracuda is a novel about dreams and disillusionment, friendship and family, class, identity, and the cost of success. As Daniel loses everything, he learns what it means to be a good person--and what it takes to become one.

This is one of the books we examined for our unit on Australian Literature at uni this past trimester. The unit was interesting. I started it thinking how excited I was by Australian literature and what I knew about it, I finished pondering how little I actually know. But that sounds like something I should examine on Friday rather than now.

Tsiolkas doesn’t believe in tackling the easy issues in his books. I scribbled a few words about his book The Slap back in 2012 when I knew less about books and working out what they actually mean and pertain to. It’s interesting how much one learns at uni. If I reread it now it’d be fascinating to see what I make of it.

Barracuda is another well-written book about people and relationships. This book highlights many things, including what can happen to a person when they don’t win. Australian society seems to be fixated on sports and the winners, but what happens to a person when they don’t win, when they are that fractionally slower than the first three people to touch the line? We’re talking Olympic swimming here so that fraction might be one fifth of a second. This book examines this issue as well as other issues.

The people within this book are beautifully written. They mostly have depth and passion. When they don’t have depth it’s for a reason.

It’s set in various parts of Melbourne. We see Box Hill, parts of Sydney Road and then a school in a rich part of Melbourne. I’m guessing this school is Melbourne High School but in the book it’s referred to in a derogatory fashion which I won’t repeat here (words I don’t use). The city is beautifully detailed and if you know that part you’ll be able to spot the landmarks.

Do I recommend it? Yes, but with the following warnings.


If you’re wary of sex, gay relationships, swearing then I suggest you read with caution. One friend at uni was quite confronted by the gay sex, I was far more confronted by the swearing.