Barracuda: A Novel

Overview

Man Booker Prize-longlisted author of The Slap (soon to be an NBC miniseries) returns in an “immensely moving” (Sunday Times) story of a young athlete’s coming of age
 
Fourteen-year-old Daniel Kelly is special. Despite his upbringing in working-class Melbourne, he knows that his astonishing ability in the swimming pool has the potential to transform his life, silence the rich boys at the private school to which he has won a sports ...

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Barracuda: A Novel

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Overview

Man Booker Prize-longlisted author of The Slap (soon to be an NBC miniseries) returns in an “immensely moving” (Sunday Times) story of a young athlete’s coming of age
 
Fourteen-year-old Daniel Kelly is special. Despite his upbringing in working-class Melbourne, he knows that his astonishing ability in the swimming pool has the potential to transform his life, silence the rich boys at the private school to which he has won a sports scholarship, and take him far beyond his neighborhood, possibly to international stardom and an Olympic medal. Everything Danny has ever done, every sacrifice his family has ever made, has been in pursuit of this dream. But what happens when the talent that makes you special fails you? When the goal that you’ve been pursuing for as long as you can remember ends in humiliation and loss?
 
Twenty years later, Dan is in Scotland, terrified to tell his partner about his past, afraid that revealing what he has done will make him unlovable. When he is called upon to return home to his family, the moment of violence in the wake of his defeat that changed his life forever comes back to him in terrifying detail, and he struggles to believe that he’ll be able to make amends. Haunted by shame, Dan relives the intervening years he spent in prison, where the optimism of his childhood was completely foreign.
 
Tender, savage, and blazingly brilliant, Barracuda is a novel about dreams and disillusionment, friendship and family, class, identity, and the cost of success. As Daniel loses everything, he learns what it means to be a good person—and what it takes to become one.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
07/14/2014
Tsiolkas (The Slap) tells the story of the pressures of trying to live up to high expectations. Relentlessly bullied at the elite Australian private high school he attends on scholarship, working-class Dan Kelly shows early promise as a swimmer. With the hopes of his parents, coach, and suddenly envious classmates riding on him, Dan becomes fixated on winning at all costs. But when he places fifth at his first international championship race, he breaks down, lashing out violently at his former friends and turns to alcohol for consolation. When a masochistic affair with the wealthy Martin Taylor brings Dan’s sexual identity to the fore, he finds himself at the breaking point and comes close to committing murder. He spends some time in prison, and, after his release, he travels to his family’s homeland in Glasgow, where he falls in love with the angelic Clyde. But before he can get too involved, he must return to Australia, face his mistakes, and try to reconcile with his struggling family. The novel has all the early signs of a classic failure narrative along the lines of Exley’s A Fan’s Notes, but it loses direction in its second half. Additionally, the alternating chapters—in which the contemporary Dan speaks in the first-person—are actually more distant than the more affecting third-person parts. This story never quite realizes its full potential but Tsiolkas’s sincerity qualifies it as solidly middleweight. (Sept.)
From the Publisher
A Kirkus Best Fiction Books of 2014 Selection

“A truly fine novel... A great page-turner …Barracuda combines sharp social portraiture with that rare ingredient, a story that speaks to the human condition…So gripping …This is not only Tsiolkas’s best novel so far, it is the work of a writer at the top of his game.” —The Millions

“Tsiolkas perfectly captures the arrogance and agonies of youth… [Barracuda] burns with razor-raw insight…Engrossing.”—Booklist

“This disturbing yet satisfying story by Commonwealth Prize winner Tsiolkas (The Slap) examines themes of class consciousness, family conflict, loyalty, and friendship. The often harsh, sometimes brutal novel about the fine line between love and hate, pain and pleasure, is infused with language so beautiful that it takes one’s breath away.”—Library Journal

"[Barracuda] has all the early signs of a classic failure narrative along the lines of Exley’s A Fan’s Notes…Affecting."—Publishers Weekly

“A bracing poolside critique of Antipodean mores…A tough, unsparing, closely observed and decidedly R-rated look at the many challenges and disappointments that life brings, told against settings that American readers will find at once familiar and exotic.”—Kirkus (starred review)

International Praise for Barracuda

“Immensely moving…Tsiolkas writes with compelling clarity about the primal stuff that drives us all: the love and hate and fear of failure. He is also brilliant on the nuances of relationships….At times, the prose is near to poetry…There are shades of Faulkner in this brilliant, beautiful book. If it doesn’t make you cry, you can’t be fully alive.”—The Sunday Times

“Intense…strikingly physical…an almost mystical experience…Tsiolkas again shows a particular ability to create spiky psychological snapshots.”—
Financial Times
 
[Tsiolkas is] a master chronicler of the zeitgeist... There is no understatement; no silences nor lilting musicality. The words hurtle out as he depicts characters trapped between irreconcilable worlds – middle class and working class, Anglo and Greek, gay and straight, physical and intellectual. Individuals who are intense, complex and flawed but must ultimately cleave towards tenderness and discover generosity. If The Slap was excellent material for a TV series, then Barracuda’s more substantial plot has all the hallmarks of a feature film.”—The Guardian 
 
Resonant, epic and supremely accomplished…subtle, textured, profoundly human and riveting… Tsiolkas is consistently and ferociously engaged with the unique (and surely principal) concern of the novelist: the inner lives of the people about whom he has chosen to write…This is the work of a superb writer who has completely mastered his craft but lost nothing of his fiery spirit or instinct in so doing. Barracuda is a big achievement. Not least because, for all its power and glory, for all its sound and fury, it everywhere manifests ‘the ruthless calm of the truth’.”—The Observer
 
“Rhapsodic… Barracuda may tell an old, old story, but it has rarely been told in a better way.”—The Telegraph
 
“Brilliantly sharp...[Barracuda is] literature that engages with our world. It tries to figure out how society is put together and asks questions about how to live within it. In blunt, compelling prose reminiscent of early 20th-century American writers such as Theodore Dreiser and Upton Sinclair, Tsiolkas explores the extremism of our mainstream and brings us to an awareness of the animal urges that trouble our civilised hearts. As such it's vital.”—The Australian
 
“Tsiolkas is a masterly storyteller.”—Caroline Jowett, Daily Express
 
“Barracuda is classic Tsiolkas: impassioned, at times brutal... but always riveting.”—The Sunday Morning Herald
 
“[A] tough, insightful social critique.”—The Sydney Morning Herald, selected as a Best Summer Read
 
“Christos Tsiolkas’ Barracuda is a big, bold, riveting book, an absolute page-turner swollen with rage and shame but mesmerizing as it unfolds.”—Peter Craven, A Book of the Year Selection for The Australian

More Praise for Christos Tsiolkas

"Tsiolkas is a hard-edged, powerful writer...leaving us exhaused but gasping with admiration."—Washington Post

"Think Tom Wolfe meets Philip Roth."—Los Angeles Times

[Tsiolkas] will appeal to those who prefer their novels complex and multilayered...a singular reading experience."—Library Journal

Kirkus Reviews
★ 2014-07-09
Australian novelist Tsiolkas (The Slap, 2008, etc.) serves up a bracing poolside critique of Antipodean mores. The trope of athletic contest as coming-of-age backdrop is an old one, though more seen in film than literature since the days of The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner. Tsiolkas' latest takes an athletically gifted young man—Danny here, Dan there, Barracuda everywhere, thanks to his habit of churning up the water and devouring his opponents—across two decades. As we find him at first, Danny, a working-class scholarship student, is on the loutish side, swimming for a school that he calls "Cunts College," a place for the rich and privileged and not the likes of him. Only dimly self-aware, Danny flourishes under the tutelage of a Hungarian-born mentor who had coached the team "to first in every school sports meet of the last seven years." The fact of Coach Torma's foreignness is important, because everyone in Australia, it seems, is from someplace else, and immigration and exile underlie the Greek-descended author's story. In time, Danny, now a grown-up Dan, will be someplace else, too, for though he is Olympic material, he fails to live up to his promise for reasons that move the story along, taking him to far-off Glasgow and into the complexities of sexuality, so torn up about events that he can't bring himself to enter the water. Dan's struggle to resolve the too-abundant conflicts that beset him, including hinted-at legal trouble, makes us sorry to see the once-golden boy stumble and fall. Still, he finds redemption of a kind in his homeland, which remains welcoming even though Dan/Danny has only an untutored, reflexive appreciation for its moderate politics; at the end, as Tsiolkas has one accidentally wise character note, "[w]e're lucky here, Danny, this country just sails on, impervious to the shit that the rest of the world is drowning in. Jesus, no wonder any bastard who gets on a boat wants to come here." A tough, unsparing, closely observed and decidedly R-rated look at the many challenges and disappointments that life brings, told against settings that American readers will find at once familiar and exotic.
Library Journal
09/01/2014
Dan Kelly has the Sydney Olympics in his sights. One of Coach Torma's golden boys, though he's a Melbourne working-class lad on scholarship at a posh private school, Dan knows he's the fastest swimmer on the squad. But, like Icarus flying too close to the sun, Dan ignores his coach's advice and fails spectacularly in front of thousands. Internalizing the shame, he rejects the comfort of his family and best friend Demet, nursing a visceral rage at the world he believes denied him glory. This anger explodes in a violent altercation that lands Dan in prison, where he steeps himself in literature and begins the process of reinvention. Once outside, Dan works as a caretaker of adults with disabilities and forges a relationship with his lover, Clyde, who penetrates Dan's carapace for a while. But even a move to Clyde's Scotland won't help Dan find redemption. Only in Australia, in the bosom of his family, will he become a man he can look at in the mirror. VERDICT This disturbing yet satisfying story by Commonwealth Prize winner Tsiolkas (The Slap) examines themes of class consciousness, family conflict, loyalty, and friendship. The often harsh, sometimes brutal novel about the fine line between love and hate, pain and pleasure, is infused with language so beautiful that it takes one's breath away. [See Prepub Alert, 3/31/14.]—Sally Bissell, Lee Cty. Lib. Syst., Fort Myers, FL
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780804138420
  • Publisher: Crown Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 9/9/2014
  • Pages: 448
  • Sales rank: 255,780
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Christos Tsiolkas is an internationally bestselling and award-winning novelist, playwright, essayist, and screenwriter. His novel The Slap has sold more than one million copies worldwide and has been published in twenty-eight countries.

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