Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Book review: Barracuda by Christos Tsiolkas


My edition: Paperback, to be published on 2nd January 2014 by Atlantic books, 513 pages.

Description: His whole life Danny Kelly's only wanted one thing: to win Olympic gold. Everything he's ever done - every thought, every dream, every action - takes him closer to that moment of glory, of vindication, when the world will see him for what he is: the fastest, the strongest and the best. His life has been a preparation for that moment.

His parents struggle to send him to the most prestigious private school with the finest swimming program; Danny loathes it there and is bullied and shunned as an outsider, but his coach is the best and knows Danny is, too, better than all those rich boys, those pretenders. Danny's win-at-all-cost ferocity gradually wins favour with the coolest boys - he's Barracuda, he's the psycho, he's everything they want to be but don't have the guts to get there. He's going to show them all.

Rating:



When I received Barracuda in the post and noticed the sticker on the front proudly advertising that is was written by the same author as The Slap my heart sank a little bit, as that is one of the worst books I've ever read. It's a novel that made me very, very angry and for all the wrong reasons too - even over two years later I still feel the annoyance bubbling up just thinking about it (find my full review here). For that reason I seriously contemplated not picking up this book, but then I figured that everybody deserves a second chance and I would give it at least a few chapters before dismissing it altogether.

I was very surprised then that I actually enjoyed the story of Danny Kelly, the titular character, at first. It properly focussed on him and didn't wander off into a pointless and unrealistic drug-fuelled and sex-driven territory as much as The Slap did. Another major positive was that this time around I didn't feel the desperate need to slap sense (no pun intended) into every single one of the characters because they were such dreadful and unlikeable human beings.

Unfortunately my enjoyment of the book didn't last for very long for a variety of reasons. For one there was an important event allured to for the duration of the story (why Danny went to jail) but it wasn't until the very end that some light was shed on the situation, and even then it wasn't explained in full and required a lot of guess work from the reader, piecing together an offhand comment from one of the earlier chapters to a scene much further down the line that seemed like it was going to escalate. The unnecessary padding in between was distracting and made it all far more complex than it could have and should have been.

Furthermore there is a lot of going back and forth in time, and while sometimes a date was listed at the top of a new section this wasn't consistently used throughout which added gratuitous confusion to what was already a far too filled out novel for quite a basic story. In fact, on more than one occasion I was lost about where we were in Danny's life and what had already happened in his time line and what had yet to take place.

As for the overall themes within the novel, while I can appreciate the brutal honesty of the coming of age story which reflects on Australian society, rather than hitting the mark with an evocative piece of writing, Tsiolkas preaches his own disillusionment with people, and the world as a whole, making it all dwindle down into tiresome and pretentious repetition.

So while the novel had a promising start, it has unfortunately done nothing to change my view on the author and I fear it unlikely I will give his work yet another chance in the future.

You can purchase a copy of the novel from Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.com or your own preferred retailer.



Would you like to know more about the author? You can connect with him online at:

Website: www.barracuda.net.au


Many thanks to RealReaders for a copy of the novel in exchange for an honest review.

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