Read Barracuda

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. 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. Haunted by shame, Dan relives the intervening years he spent in prison, where the optimism of his childhood was completely foreign.

Although I had seen and enjoyed the television adaptations of both The Slap and Barracuda, I had never actually read any of Christos Tsiolkas’ novels. I was partly inspired after listening to Tsiolkas in conversation with Waleed Aly and Scott Stephens, also Barracuda was the only novel available on

The novel revolves around Daniel Kelly, the son of working class Scots-Irish and Greek parents who gains a scholarship to a prodigious private school because of his swimming abilities, but fails to make it to the Olympics.

Where The Slap had an ensemble cast and Tolstoy-esque ambitions — it sought to render the whole milieu of the multiethnic, suburban Melbourne that is Tsiolkas’s heartland — Barracuda trains its sights firmly on Danny Kelly. Even so, all the characters are vividly drawn.

Mark Lawson on language:

Tsiolkas’s sometimes startling dialogue is part of his mission – along with explicit descriptions of urination, defecation and ejaculation – to set down the texture of how people really live and speak. His characters have a visceral credibility rare in fiction.

There is something strangely engaging about this novel in the way that the problem is referenced early on, the rest of the time we bounce between a before and after, piecing things together. For me, every choice that Dan Kelly makes comes with its own set of consequences. Although we get some sort of resolution in the end, when Kelly gives a gift back to his family, this does not necessarily remedy all of life’s ills, nor does it break free of the restraints placed on us by society.