Here is another novel about identity. ‘Barracuda’ by Christos Tsiolkas is a deeply affecting story of a young man trying to work out where he belongs in the world. It is telling that, at various points, the main protagonist is called Dan, Danny, Dino and Barracuda. Some names he adopts himself and some are bestowed upon him; his preferred handle changes as his life changes.
Central to the story is the class confusion Danny feels when he wins a scholarship to a prestigious private school. His prowess at swimming earns him a scholarship, enabling him to attend a school with wealthy boys who feel entitled to success and glory. Danny has to work for his success. It is this driving force that keeps him going in an institution he knows does not want him; he does not fit in, he isn’t like the other boys, the other families.
The swimming coach believes in him, though. He is a fellow outsider, an immigrant from Hungary. He guides him through competition after competition on his way to glory. There is no doubt that Danny is on his way to the Olympics. Throughout his life, he has this dream, this goal, in his mind. He will be better than his peers and it will be him and not them who make it to the podium.
This story is about what happens when the dream dies. It is clear from the earliest part of the book that something has gone wrong, the promise has not been fulfilled. I read through to the end hoping that this guy would find happiness in the end. But, as we know something stopped his upward trajectory to the Olympics and glory. This is a book about being an outsider. It is about the urge to belong at the same time as proving yourself better than the group you long to accept you.
Throughout the book, Dan, Danny, Dino, Barracuda is an outsider by virtue of class, sexuality, nationality, heritage and past misdemeanours. He wanted to fit in. The thing is, I wanted him to fit in as well.
‘Barracuda’ is in my hinterland. What’s in yours?