Author: Christos Tsiolkas
My Rating: ♥♥♥
It’s been a few years since I read The Slap, and I’ve always been meaning to read another book by Christos Tsiolkas. I can’t say I really enjoyed Barracuda as much as The Slap. I felt that it was on the long side, and I think it explored a few things a bit too thoroughly that ultimately had little effect on the story. But I did pick up on a few really interesting things in this book.
Barracuda patches together the story of Danny, a young Australian boy with Greek and Scottish parents (or grandparents). Danny is a swimming prodigy as a boy and a teenager. He gets a scholarship to go to an exclusive private school and get intensive training from the Coach. However, things don’t really work out for Danny as he has dreamed.
The theme of shame and regret plays a big part in this story. There are a couple of things Danny does when he is young that ultimately change the trajectory of his life. Tsiolkas uses an interesting device where the protagonist is called Danny when he is young and before his life-changing events. Afterwards, when his life story has changed and his dreams have been altered, he changes to Dan, and he hates to be called Danny – and perhaps reminded of the time when he could have had it all.
Actually, the protagonist has a range of different names for different situations and parts of his life – Danny Kelly, Psycho Kelly, Danny the Greek, Dino, Dan, Barracuda. I thought this was interesting, but a lot of these names came and went and weren’t really used again. I would have liked if each one could have been used and developed, almost as if they were different characters.
I liked the storyline about Dan’s Scottish boyfriend, Clyde. Dan and Clyde meet in Sydney, but Clyde can’t stay in Sydney forever. He finds the people to be narrow-minded and there are too many rules. Besides, it’s too far from everything and he longs to be back in “Glasga” – home. But when Dan follows him to his home country, he finds that he can’t live there either, although the whole relationship gives him a somewhat different perspective of Australia.
Even though I found it difficult to relate to the sports parts and the teenage boy parts of the book, I found that I was able to connect with the characters through this part of the story. As an Australian living overseas, I have really had the opportunity to step back and view my home country with different eyes. Yes, the people can be narrow minded. You’re brought up believing you come from the golden land of opportunity, that it’s one of the most multi-cultural countries in the world and everyone is so lucky. Yeah, Australia is a lucky country – ask me in March when I’ve been wearing a down coat for the last 6 months. But there are a lot of problems with this narrow-minded mentality and racism and other isms and phobias that can be difficult to see until you step away.
I enjoy when writers split up the narrative and move back and forth in time – when it is done well and it adds something to the story. In Barracuda, I found it to be a bit confusing. I get the part of telling the current-day “Dan” story separately from the old “Danny” story. But even within those two main narratives, the time jumps around in a way that didn’t really make sense to me. I had to constantly go back to the menu to see where I was in time.
Barracuda was enjoyable enough. It could have probably been a couple of hundred pages shorter…and there were a couple of other small annoying things about it. But there were a few parts I found I could identify with and enjoy.