Barracuda – Christos-Tsiolkas


Someone once asked me what I did with my anger. I didn’t understand the question. This book explores it.

A boy who goes to a posh school because of his ability at swimming finds it hard to make friends and feels out of place. And who hasn’t been the last one to be picked for a team game in PE?

Barracuda is a ray-finned fish known for its large size and fearsome appearance; voracious, opportunistic predators, relying on surprise and short bursts of speed (up to 27 mph (43 km/h)) to overtake their prey; Adults of most species are more or less solitary, while young and half-grown fish frequently congregate.

An unflinching look at modern Australia, hopes and dreams, friendships, and families, class, sport, politics, migration and education: everything a person is: family and friendship and love and work, the identities we inhabit and discard, the means by which we fill the holes at our centre.

I had to look of ‘cadmium’ – apparently it’s a sort of chemical in head and I suppose, when referring to hair, it means ginger.

 The scene where his mother shaves his legs is erotic.

Like many teenagers who leave home to go to school of college, he feels ashamed of his parents and of the house that now feels so small.

I liked the nickname ‘Joeys’ for Jehovah’s Witnesses’’.

Why do they use hot water to clean their teeth?

I am no prude but I was quite disgusted by his eating tissues smeared with various bodily fluids.

Why his obsession with winning and his blaming everybody else for his failure?


“He was going to take in, possess the whole of the world. Aussie Aussie Aussie, Oi Oi Oi? Fuck off. He wanted more.”

He asked the water to lift him, to carry him, to avenge him. He made his muscles shape his fury, made every stroke declare his hate. And the water obeyed; the water would give him his revenge. No one could beat him, no one came close.

‘I have to learn to breathe again’

‘…none of it could settle the question that had mattered most to him since he’d found himself moored on

dry land: was he – Danny Kelly, Psycho Kelly, Danny the Greek, Dino, Dan, Barracuda – was he a good man?’

He would be first, everything would be alright when he came first, all would be put back in place. When he thought of being the best, only then did he feel calm.

He dived into the water and all the pieces came together: everything was liquid and it was in being liquid that everything became clear. The water parted for him, the water caressed him, the water obeyed him. He swam, he propelled himself through the water; the muscles that moved as they should, the power of his limbs, his lungs and his heart which breathed and beat in a harmony that was clean and efficient. Only in the water were he and the world unsullied. He swam, far beyond mind, aware of only body; and then, coming up for air, he had left even his body behind, and though the exertion continued, though every muscle kept working as it should have, he was wondering if on those long drives through desert and plain, through morning and night, his father’s body didn’t also seamlessly forget pain and forget time—that the drive, like the swim, was the only constant, the heart beating and the lungs breathing, and whether the long desert roads were liquid as well, not heat and dust but clear and clean like water

That’s what I learned in there, that was the most important lesson: that I did something wrong and that I had to pay for what I did. You construct a ladder and you climb that ladder, out of the hell you have created for yourself and back into the real world. That is atonement, a word I discovered in there; it is in such places that the word resides and makes sense.

You had to give it back. Hurt them before they hurt you.

At that moment he realised that it hadn’t all been about being better and faster and stronger; that hadn’t been all he’d wanted. It had also been to make a mark, to be a photograph and an image, to be a record and a name. To be a name. There was no mark and there never would be. No one knew his name.

So I don’t say anything about my past; instead I tell him about now. I hope that the now is enough

He was not the strongest, not the fastest, he was not the best—he was not anyone at all, but this son and this grandson. This was where he started, this was where he began.

Not now is enough, not now is all he needs. One day at a time.

As I think we all did, all of us boys, in the team, in the heats, in the competitions, in those pools and in those change rooms, we all knew what giving ourselves over to another thrill that could equal swimming would do. And now I know it about porn and about the internet. I know how it taints desire, how it poisons memory and corrupts time.

I liked the stream of consciousness going on in Danny’s mind during a date: What would his chest look like? His nipples?
What would his legs look like? Would his thighs be solid, would his calves be firm?

Was his cock thick? Did he still have his foreskin?

What would his sweat taste like?

And I’ll tell you what I don’t want, mate. I don’t want to be a father and I don’t want to be a co-parent and I don’t want any of that shit. I want to be forty-five and be able to travel and not have to think about little Bobbie’s school fees or little Jacqueline’s bloody dancing lessons. I like being a faggot, mate, I like it a lot and I think being free in our middle age is what we deserve for straights making our childhood and our teenage years so cuntish.’

`We were all pricks,’ said Morello, merging the car into the long queue of traffic waiting to turn right onto Barkers Road. `You too, Kelly, bloody Barracuda—you wouldn’t even look at me at school. You’d just look right past me like I didn’t exist.’

The throbbing at his temple, the incessant sound of the heater, the sweat under his collar; Dan needed to be out of the car, to be in open space.

He was about to say that to Morello, but before he could speak, Morello said, ‘You and I were kids, Danny—we can’t blame ourselves for all that. We were just trying to survive it, weren’t we? You wanted to be the best swimmer in the world and I walked up that fucking drive for six years promising myself that today, today, I wasn’t going to look like a poor wog, I wasn’t going to smell like the poor wog whose mother worked in a fish-and-chip shop, whose father never had an education. I did that for six years, Danny: I lied about my father and I lied about my mum, I never let anyone come over to my place so they wouldn’t have to meet my parents, so they wouldn’t know who I really was. I’ll never forgive myself for that.’

Dan could see the thin grey hairs disappearing into his arse crack, and had to look away in disgust. He sat still, smelling the juice of the fruit, he made himself stay there, not letting his body rise, because of what it could have done, what it was capable of executing.

Dan took in a deep breath. He could have killed his old man, the way he felt then he could have got up, unzipped, taken out his cock and raped his old man—that was how much he hated him. He breathed out. His father had clumped the sodden cloth in his hands and was wiping down the table. The basket of fruit shook. Dan breathed in but his body wouldn’t settle, the gaping ravenous hole inside of him would not retreat. Dan breathed out, grabbing at the sounds and syllables and fragments of words colliding inside him. He breathed in and let the words out.

`You’re the ignorant one, Dad,’ he began, jerking his head at the refrigerator, at the multicoloured face of the US president, the blood-red earth and the night sky and the golden sun of the Aboriginal flag. I don’t care about your fucking windbag American president, he isn’t saving the world, and I don’t care about the fucking Aborigines and they don’t fucking care about me and I don’t care about your fucking Labor Party and your fucking Greens—let the world burn and choke itself in green­house gases: no one wants to give up anything, no one wants to sacrifice anything for anyone else.

`I’ve been to where you’re from, Dad, and the working class have gone, they’ve left the fucking building. The best of them got out long ago, they’ve moved on, and the worst of them are getting pissed and getting high and having babies for welfare cheques, and they’re exactly like everyone here, blaming immigrants and blaming refugees and blaming everyone else but themselves. There’s no difference, Dad—this is what the world is like now and you think you are so much better than the other truck drivers you know because you and Mum protest against the war in Iraq and the war in Afghanistan, and you sign petitions protesting about refugees being kept in detention centres and you think that makes you special, you think that means your shit doesn’t stink, but really the refugees and the poor and the desperate, the blackfellas here and the blackfellas in the rest of the world, they don’t give a shit for any of that. They’re just trying to get ahead the best they can, and you’ve wasted all your years on caring about that shit and what have you given Regan? What have you given Theo? What have you given any of us? All I wanted was for you to support me. All I wanted was to be the greatest swimmer there ever was and you never once carried me, honoured me, supported me, did you? You didn’t, because you didn’t want me to get too big-headed, didn’t want me to succeed, didn’t want me to be anything but what you are, an old man with a chip on your shoulder about being working class and poor, banging on about your Irish roots and your working-class Scottish heritage as if that meant anything. As if anyone in Scotland or Ireland gives a fuck about you and where you’ve been and what you’ve done—I’ve been there, Dad, I’ve lived there, and if they were here, they’d say, what the fuck is this cunt whingeing about with his backyard and his four-bedroom house and his car and his truck and his family and his grandchild and all the fucking safety in the world? How dare you complain about anything, you fucking spoiled Aussie cunt, that’s what they’d say, that’s what they are saying, Dad.’

There’s another review here

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