A couple of years ago Australian writer Christs Tsiolkas burst onto the North American literature scene with The Slap. I didn’t read it. It was about a man who slaps a child who is not his and controversy ensues. It appeared to stirring up controversy for controversy’s sake. But it would not go away!
Tsiolkas has a new book out now, Barracuda. It is about a young swimmer destined for greatness, but who’s life somehow goes down the tubes. The topic attracted me much more than The Slap, so I decided to give it a try. It is edgy, political, and somewhat controversial, but Barracuda is also highly readable. That Tsiolkas is a great writer is without a doubt. That he is also someone with a couple axes to grind may also be true.
One of the most important things Tsiolkas does in his novel is highlight Australian culture. I think most of us think that Australian culture can’t really be all that different from North American culture, with the notable exceptions of climate and beaches. Tsiolkas takes the reader into the working class of Australia and shows many of the biases and racial prejudices that exist in Australia today. Given the number of Australian friends I have I found this shocking and troubling. But then, most of my Australian friends are highly educated (we met in grad school) and middle class. And apparently class makes a difference. In that way, I’d say Australia is more like the UK than i had imagined.
Who would like this book? This book would be great for a book club. It creates discussion and makes the reader think. It is political not only in it’s look at class, but also sexuality. Although both Barracuda and The Rosie Project are Australian, they present utterly different worlds. Barracuda would also appeal to the sports minded as it is about competitive swimming.