STARRED REVIEW
September 2014

When talent becomes a heavy burden

By Christos Tsiolkas
Review by
Dan Kelly, the protagonist of Christos Tsiolkas’ latest novel, is not a likable character. He’s not likable in the novel’s first pages, when he’s a scholarship student at a posh boys’ school in Australia, and he remains unlikable at the end, when he’s a 30-something who doesn’t know what to do with his life. However, by the end of the book, we understand Dan, a little. This is why you will stay with Barracuda, why you will keep turning the pages even as you grit your teeth.
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Dan Kelly, the protagonist of Christos Tsiolkas’ latest novel, is not a likable character. He’s not likable in the novel’s first pages, when he’s a scholarship student at a posh boys’ school in Australia, and he remains unlikable at the end, when he’s a 30-something who doesn’t know what to do with his life. However, by the end of the book, we understand Dan, a little. This is why you will stay with Barracuda, why you will keep turning the pages even as you grit your teeth.

As a child, Dan showed great promise as a swimmer and was singled out by his coach as being the fastest, strongest and best of all the boys on the team. Unfortunately, it seems like the adoring Coach Torma either never informs Dan that he’s going to lose a few races even at the height of his powers, or the admonition never sinks in. So when Dan loses one race, he gives up swimming—it will be years before he even swims for pleasure.

Though Dan is called Barracuda because of his swimming chops, he also resembles the fish for his sheer viciousness. He attacks everyone around him, verbally, mentally and even physically. His aggression doesn’t even stop with his loved ones, who include his worshipful mother, a Greek immigrant, his brother, sister and hardworking Dad, an immigrant from Scotland. Only Dan’s best friend, Demet, can stand up to him, and that’s because she’s as mean as he is.

But Barracuda also has insightful things to say about the immigrant experience in Australia and the persistence of family and friendship bonds. This exploration of the mind of a bitter man who destroyed his own dreams is an absorbing if difficult work.

 

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Barracuda

Barracuda

By Christos Tsiolkas
Hogarth
ISBN 9780804138420

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