In what must have been well-planned timing this book was brought to my attention as a mini-series on TV just as we are coming into the beginning of the Olympics. Australia, as I’m sure many of us are aware, is obsessed with swimming and what better way to bring it in that with a story told form the perspective of a young swimmer. Danny is 14, has jus been offered a scholarship to a fancy school. Something he isn’t too thrilled about, however, his mantra is that it will make him a better swimmer. Swimming is Danny’s hing and he is well aware that he is faster, stronger, better than the others. This book is told in split perspectives of Danny’s across a period of almost 20 years. Starting at 14 and following him through to the present. A present very different to his earlier prospective one.
This novel was true Tsiolkas style, honest and brutal telling you how it is. If you are offended by strong language or graphic content, particularly related to sexuality then this may not be the book for you. Personally, I love Tsiolkas’ style that gets straight to the point not matter how harsh it may sound. Like with The Slap there are times you are aghast at the internal dialogue of Danny but the beauty of it is that it is the truth. Us as humans all too often think things that are too hard, things we wouldn’t say out loud, things we don’t really believe, but do think for those fleeting seconds. I like that he captures a true inner monologue, even though it may be confronting and repulsive at times, it captures the essence of reality.
Because of this inner monologue I found myself disliking Danny quite a lot as a narrator. He is arrogant, expects everything to go his way and is unable to compromise from wha he believes to be true in the way that only a teenager can. On the other hand he is also compulsive, competitive and single-minded to his own demise. For those reasons I was unable to put the book down and found that I had read half the book in just one night. As much as I dislike him as a person, I found his fascinating to no end. Our personalities are complete opposites so this was an opportunity to put myself into the shoes of an elite athlete, with that level of discipline that I could never begin to experience within myself. In contrast I really enjoyed the chapters from the point of view of Dan, now grown up having lived through the consequences of his past actions. Much more matured, measured and deeper, more feeling. This Dan I found much more relatable and likeable. The fact that the book kept jumping between the two time points kept me on my toes, kept me wanting to bridge the gap between these two jarringly different characters.
Once again Tsoilkas has written another though provoking story that you just can’t put down and walk away from. His written word is blunt, offensive and undoubtably Australian. He captures the essence of hypocrisy in our society in a way that might make many people feel uncomfortable. Another great choice for a book club, guaranteed to spark debate. Hitting the nail on the head again, I give Barracuda three swimmers, the nation’s sporting obsession.