Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Barracuda by Christos Tsiolkas

3.5 Stars
“I see a beautiful gigantic swimmer swimming naked through the eddies of the sea,
His brown hair lies close and even to his head, he strikes out with courageous arms, he urges himself with his legs,
I see his white body, I see his undaunted eyes,
I hate the swift-running eddies that would dash him head-foremost on the rocks.

What are you doing you ruffianly red-trickled waves?
Will you kill the courageous giant? will you kill him in the prime of his middle-age?

Steady and long he struggles,
He is baffled, bang’d, bruis’d, he holds out while his strength holds out,
The slapping eddies are spotted with his blood, they bear him away, they roll him, swing him, turn him,
His beautiful body is borne in the circling eddies, it is continually bruis’d on rocks,
Swiftly and out of sight is borne the brave corpse.”

Walt Whitman

Before I begin an actual review I’m going to be really rude and say this yet another case of a horrible synopsis. Danny’s mother isn’t single and his family isn’t middle class – in fact, his father is one of the driving forces behind the story and the family is very much lower/working class people. The blurb is what draws the audience to new books, it’s pretty important to get the basic facts correct. Grrrrr.

That being cleared up, the rest of the official synopsis is true. This is the story of Danny Kelly – a promising young Australian swimmer who is discovered at a competition at the local pool. Danny is given a full scholarship to a prestigious private school that focuses on training athletes for various Olympic events. It is there that Danny will have to learn to deal with success and failure, being good enough for some, but never good enough for all (including himself), figuring out who/what to be proud of and what should make him feel shame.

This was a notable book. I’d never heard of Tsiolkas (or The Slap) before and simply picked this one up because I got it for free. I love a good coming of age story, and this one was exceptional. All of the details of life as a swimmer added depth to the story, the past to present narration was made fresh with the story being told in both third and first person (depending on whether you were hearing “Danny” or “Dan’s” story), and to read a solid homosexual main character? One where being “homosexual” is not the defining (or only) factor of his personality? Those kind of stories are way too few and far between.

I won’t go so far as to say this is a book for everyone. It’s very “book clubby” (for lack of a better term) and I can picture a series of Q&A/talking points being added to later editions at some point. There aren’t a lot of plot twists or outrageous scenes to propel the reader – Barracuda is very much driven by how remarkably well-written it is. Its simplicity and raw emotion are what make it so striking.

Oh, and I can’t wrap this up without saying PLEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEASE make the song by Heart stop playing on a loop in my brain now that I’m done with this book!!!! Please???????

“Ooooooooooooooooh, Barracuda!”

ARC provided by Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review

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