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Australia lionises its swimmers. They are recognised; they have nicknames; they are showered with sponsorship and gifts.

Danny Kelly, a schoolboy from Melbourne’s unfashionable northern suburbs has been awarded a swimming scholarship at one of the top private schools. He’s an outsider, but once he beats the rich kids in the pool he finds himself welcomed by those who had first given him the cold shoulder. He is christened Barracuda in recognition not only of his swimming talent but also his pugnacious attitude. The school swimming coach, Frank Torma, offers personal training twice a day and entertains the elite swimmers at his house, buying in the best pizzas they will ever eat. Danny’s future is already written.

For a moment, we could be forgiven for imagining ourselves in a Chris Cleave novel.

But, as each chapter progresses relentlessly forward from 1994 to the present day, the chapters have little codas in which time starts now and works backwards. After a couple of chapters, it becomes clear that there is a disconnect between the anticipated future and reality. There is one chapter, at the end of Part One, where the unwinding future narrative and the forward paced main narrative pass one another. That is the opening ceremony of the 2000 Sydney Olympics, the moment Danny and coach Torma had been planning for…

As in The Slap, Christos Tsiolkas shows us the seamy, venal, unsympathetic face of modern Melbourne. It’s back in Barracuda – the bigoted, blinkered views are on display in abundance. There’s the Jehovah’s witnesses; the chip-on-the-shoulder working class Scot; the grand old lady; the gay lover; the Turkish tomboy; and Frank Torma, the sports mad Slav. Danny is selfish and whingey; he sees others purely in terms of what they can – or won’t – do for him. Danny does change through the course of the novel, and we come to reappraise a number of the characters. We start to see human sides behind the veneer, but it doesn’t totally excuse the behaviour.

As some people tiresomely point out, there are some sweary words in Barracuda. But there’s nothing quite as rude as the way Tsiolkas bursts our bubbles – holds up a mirror and shows us what we really are. Danny may be superficial, but we are even more so for caring about his destiny. As in The Slap, we are left feeling that we, as with the characters, are essentially ephemeral, doing things of no consequence against a background of relentless progress that will sweep us away into oblivion.
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on 10 January 2014
Daniel Kelly is an ambitious young sportsman who has been tipped for future success with Australia's swimming team. He is entirely focused on his target, despite problems at home and at the posh boarding school he attends on a scholarship. But when he doesn't do as well as he thinks he should have at a swimming event, everything starts to unravel.

Aptly enough, for a novel about someone confused about who he is and how he fits into society, this book has a complex narration. Events don't appear in order, some sections are headed with a date and location, others aren't. This doesn't make the book difficult to follow, but it did mildly irritate me at times. The author is trying to keep a secret from the start of the book until approximately two-thirds of the way through - we know right from the beginning that something major has happened to derail Danny's life, but we don't know what it is. The exact nature of the event is kept from us for nearly 300 pages, which at times felt a bit of a strain - the author seemed to be artificially prolonging the reveal.

When we do find out what happened I couldn't help but feel that this revelation wasn't powerful enough to compensate for having to wait so long for it.

Daniel is known by several different variations of his name and by nick-names in the book, a sure sign of confusion about where he fits in - not only within his family, but at school and in wider society. Everything about him is a subject for confusion, especially once his swimming ambitions are out of the picture. This makes the novel and interesting journey for the reader. I found it strangely compelling - I didn't particularly like Daniel but felt that I had to keep turning the pages to find out what happened to him. He emerges as a more formed character at the end of the book, but the author avoids giving him a Hollywood happy ending instead showing us how Daniel is starting to break away from his past and move forward as a different kind of man.

As well the protagonist being confused about his identity, the author seems to be pointing out a similar conundrum about Australia. Everyone there who is not an Indigenous Australian has by definition come from somewhere else, but the various ethnic and social groups portrayed are far from being united. The country may be a melting pot, but one in which not everything has melted adequately. This is a different view from that demonstrated in many portrayals of Australia seen in the rest of the world and is an interesting view of a country many think they know, but apparently do not.

All in all I found Barracuda an interesting read, despite not feeling much of a connection with the main character. Any author who can make a reader continue reading about someone they don't much care about is skilled indeed.
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VINE VOICEon 13 January 2014
Daniel/ Danny/Dan Kelly is/was/might be an Olympic class champion swimmer. Sprung from immigrant roots, a firmly working class Melbourne Australian, he and most of his family hope that success in the pool will help him transcend the limitations of his background. But Danny fails and his reaction to failure threatens to destroy his life and the lives of those around him.

I confess I was not enthusiastic about reading this novel. I hated Dead Europe and was decided not to read anything else by Christos Tsiolkas. Only I received this book as a review copy, it is unlikely I would have given it a second glance. But I'm glad I did. Enjoyment may not be the correct word for a novel which is by turns bitter and angry, exhilarating and visceral, tough and emotive. Tsiolkas hesitates at nothing and this book may not suit a reader of sensitive disposition. However, I found myself thoroughly gripped. The lack of chronological cohesion means that the reader is fed the story in three different time-zones, hence Daniel/Danny/Dan at the beginning of the review. This conceit teases and slowly reveals Dan's ambitious rise and fall and ultimate attempts to make sense of his life. At the heart of the novel is Australia, but even more so, the family, and the final section is a working out of what it means to be part of a family. Danny was not a sympathetic character for much of this novel, but with all his faults he goes some way towards ultimate self-redemption.

As another Greek wrote some two and a half thousand years ago, `Your wound is what you feed on, Philoctetes. I say it again in friendship and say this: Stop eating yourself up with hate and come with us'.
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on 6 January 2014
Barracuda is the story of Danny Kelly, a working class boy who attends a private school in Australia on a swimming scholarship. Danny is not popular and feels an outsider. The only way he can climb the "class ladder" and overcome the bullying is by succeeding in the pool and being the best. Danny truly believes in himself and wants to pursue his dream to get an Olympic gold medal in order to show the bullies who he really is. His family make many sacrifices for him but at the Australian Swimming Championship he misses out on a place for the Australian Olympic team and his life goes downhill from there. Danny has to deal with violence, time in prison and the shame he feels he has brought to his coach and family. Slowly he tries to move on with the help of friends and family to find a new meaning to his life and become the person he has been looking for.

Barracuda is told from Danny's perspective and I struggled in the beginning as Danny is not a likeable character as a self-obsessed teenager. Danny eventually grows up and his life journey makes him a more humble and mature human being. He redeems himself and becomes more likeable. Although I have never been to Australia the struggle between classes, bullying, rivalry, violence and shame occur in all societies and countries so I found it easy to relate to the story and what its characters go through. The story poses questions like why we idolise sporting heroes while they perform well and win and we then dismiss them when they don't win anymore and what happens to those heroes when they hit rock bottom.

This is the first Christos Tsiolkas novel I have read so I cannot draw any comparisons to The Slap or any of his previous work. Barracuda uses strong language, sex and violence to make the story realistic but which some readers may find unsettling and uncomfortable to read. The story is not told in chronological order and it jumps around along with Danny's thoughts and feelings. It moves from the first to third person as the protagonist ages.This is a raw and challenging read which will not leave you indifferent.
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on 25 August 2014
Tempting though it is to begin with a pun about how Barracuda dives under the surface of Australian identity, it doesn’t quite work. This is a book about a swimming champion, a cultural and class misfit, about social and personal limitations. It’s also about carving out an identity, whether in water or stone. Tsiolkas writes with both the savagery of a machete and the precision of a scalpel.

Danny/Daniel/Barracuda has a talent, which earns him a scholarship at a private school in Melbourne, an exceptional coach, the apparent respect of his peers and a determination for the future. He has a clear ambition and his future is all mapped out.
The narrative takes an unexpected turn, leaping to the future, when adult Dan and his partner Clyde, are living in Glasgow. Dan’s a carer for people with brain injuries – and he’s good at it – but he won’t swim.

The narrative switches between the build-up to the Sydney Olympics and the much-later aftermath, hinting at a pivotal event which changes the Barracuda’s course. It’s intense, in feeling, colour, place, strata and time. Danny is one of those rare characters you want to fight and fight for at the same time.

One of the most endearing set pieces comes when Dan accompanies his mother to Adelaide, to say farewell to his maternal grandmother. He meets his cousin Dennis, learns more about family dynamics and understands a bit more about what happens when he doesn’t come first.

Brilliantly structured and viciously observant, this book delivers a youthful searing rage and a mature sense of relative awareness in extraordinarily cool prose.
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on 10 January 2014
I found this book compulsive reading. It creates a sometimes creepy feeling of tension around Danny, the gifted young swimmer powered by even more rage than talent. The writing is powerful and the characterisation of Danny is credible. But he is not a sympathetic character, so that, for me, made the overall experience of reading the book powerful, but uncomfortable and ultimately unsatisfying. It is hard to like a nasty, self-absorbed brat who grows into a man who, even at the end, is barely in control of his anger. Of course, he has redeeming features and the lack of true resolution at the end is probably realistic, though I also felt that the author was like a pilot finding it difficult to get his plane to land: the last few pages whir away inconsequentially.
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on 27 January 2014
Barracuda – Christos Tsiolkas

I confess I have had a copy of The Slap sitting on my bookshelf waiting to be read for a while now. I do believe that wait is over.
And the motivation is from just finishing my Real Readers copy of Barracuda, Mr. Tsiolkas (does anyone know how to pronounce the name?) new novel.
Reviewers have not always been kind to this writer so I started the book with no real expectations. But I finished it with total admiration.
I thought it was an excellent novel. You could be forgiven for believing it to be a tale of an adolescent kid throwing a strop because he didn’t win a race. But it is so much more than that.
This is a tour de force of adolescent angst, anger and aggression and the painful journey to being a whole person again.
I suspect the book also has much to say about the situation of sports in Australia but I am British and I can’t usefully comment on that. There is little of the sports scholarship thing in this country and I’m not even sure how it works.
But that is only part of the story and in the bigger picture just a small part.
Danny the boy is not very appealing; Dan the man breaks our hearts. To have a dream well within your grasp and to lose that dream forever is not something to get over easily. To deal with it with criminal activity is reprehensible to say the least. But to understand why you’ve gone wrong and where you’ve gone wrong is one thing and to turn it around to enrich the lives of those you care about and may have hurt in the past is something else.
I suppose you could see this as a coming of age story, a painful coming but a satisfactory and hopeful ending made this a meaningful read for me.
I loved it. So, slap me.
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on 15 November 2014
I was first introduced to Tsiolkas in his controversial novel, The Slap in 2011. Barracuda returns us to Melbourne's immigrant community through the eyes of Daniel Kelly, a working class boy who defies his social 'class' with an extraordinary talent for swimming. It is another strong and confronting novel both in its themes and its language, evoking both nostalgia for the Melbourne I left and the oneness with the water I've have had the joy of experiencing for myself. I saw Tsiolkas interviewed last year and I do find it hard to reconcile the considered and thoughtful interviewee with the author that writes everyday hate and prejudice so vividly and well. A great read.
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on 12 July 2016
Well written but I just didn't enjoy it. One big gripe: I really don't need such intimate detail of teenage sexual experiences. I kept expecting the main character to get the diagnosis I thought he needed. There seemed to be a search for someone to blame... I think. The anxiety of 'not belonging' is very well covered; so sad and so true that newbies are so rarely helped to assimilate (often because the indigenous don't want them to)... so easy for leaders/teachers to cause this to happen and what a better world it would be if they did. But they don't. Other than that, I found it depressing and was relieved to get to the unsatisfactory end (so was it all Dad's fault after all?). The good point was that it was my first whispersynch and on holiday, in strident sunlight, that worked a treat!!
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 1 April 2014
Danny Kelly is a future Olympic swimming hero. Does he have what it takes to fulfil all the dreams of those who are expecting so much from him?
We follow Danny Kelly through his teenage years and twenties to reach the man he is today. We see his struggles and pain during this period as he spends time in the UK, Australia and a couple of other destinations in his pursuit of being the best swimmer around,
This is an enjoyable tale and seemingly quite believable, judging by the Melbourne I have experienced over the years.
Barracuda would be an interesting adaption for film or TV. Maybe the ABC are tempted? Might try The Slap now.
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