Back to the book: Barracuda

Barracuda

Christos Tsiolkas’ acclaimed novel has been adapted for the small screen and is currently screening on ABCTV.

The novel has just been re-released, with a new cover to tie in with the TV series, Lezly Herbert checked out the original book.

Barracuda
by Christos Tsiolkas
Allen & Unwin

In 1994, Danny Kelly is given an opportunity to escape his working class upbringing when he is awarded a sporting scholarship to an elite private school in Melbourne. He’s not that sure he wants to escape from his background but he is keen to get the best swimming coaching available. Swimming training at the beginning and the end of each school day was all that mattered. In between, school was “a thicket of wasted time through which he had to struggle”.

Adolescent struggles are intensified as Danny feels very vulnerable in the strange world of privilege where bullying is a constant pastime of ‘the golden boys’. He is intensely conscious that he does not fit in and feels both invisible to those around him, but at the same time exposed with nowhere to hide. “Only in the water did he feel that he could escape them”.

This is the fifth novel by Melbourne writer Christos Tsiolkas and the reader is thrown into Danny’s angst by the intense imagery. Dan invests everything to be the best in the pool but wanting to belong overtakes his sense of who he is and that is a sure formula for disaster.

Danny’s adolescent struggles are juxtaposed in alternating chapters with the adult Dan who is damaged and depressed and has lost direction. As the adult Dan slowly regains his strength and power, he also heals the wounds of his disillusioned younger self.

Mixed with the confusion of adolescent emotions is an overpowering sense of shame, in part because of his attraction to one of the golden boys. “Shame ran through him again, as sharp and searing as boiling water. Then the cold came back, and wrapped around and froze his heart. That cold too was searing.”

Hard lessons are learnt, particularly when Dan’s actions lead to time being spent in prison. After losing everything, Dan has to rebuild and learn how to become the person he is proud to be. The reader is totally submerged in the journey as Dan wins the most important battle of all – to be happy in his own skin.

Lezly Herbert

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