Reading Barracuda is like treading on a stony shore. It crashes into our consciousness like waves and unsettles us, challenges everything we are. It is unflinching and exposes the in between spaces of Australian society.Image

Danny Kelly is a working class boy from Melbourne’s north. He is a wog with a dream to win Olympic gold, to emerge from his many labels and be seen. His mother is a “wog Marilyn Monroe,” his farther a Scotch-Irish truckie. Dan is as fearsome in the water as Barracuda, a nickname the boys at a prestigious private school give him when he attends the school on a sporting scholarship. “With his tie so tight, the flat of a knife pressed against his throat so he couldn’t breathe freely…Danny was vanishing.” He was disappearing into the space between working and middle class who owned homes “with front yards as big as football fields.”

Danny Kelly is driven, passionate and angry.

Danny Kelly fails.

Danny Kelly’s future becomes dust.

This is a remarkable book about dreams that disintegrate like sand and the identities that disappear with them. It’s about mistakes and consequences. It’s about re-emerging from the dust to recover oneself, to create a life of integrity.

Christos Tsiolkas’s chapters are not chronological, they are scattered like thoughts. They are fragmented and lodge us in Dan’s turbulent mind. There is empathy for the boy who needs to lose before he can win, a place for him in our hearts that recognises his struggles, his frustrations, and his shame.  Dan is the boy we pass at Broadmeadows train station, the one we see through as he walks past on Sydney road in his trackie dacks. Danny Kelly dares us to listen. His voice is unrelenting, his complexities are revealed like scabs. We discover him and in the process we discover ourselves.

Barracuda beats with the rhythms of Australian culture. “Aussie Aussie Aussie, Oi Oi Oi,” “Barracuda…Barracuda!” the chants question what it is that we really barrack for. In a country driven by sport, could this be the common thread that binds us, that shapes our diversity? What does it mean to win? What does it mean to fail?

Barracuda asks us what it means to be human. The question is present in every lap, in every stroke, “bending and shifting” our consciousness like the water that welcomes Danny Kelly.