Original publish date: 4 September 2014
I’m not going to sugar coat it or hide it: I swam competitively for ten years of my life. It was simultaneously the best and worst time of my life. It was great because you got to meet lots of new people, see new places, and push yourself to be the best. It was the worst because of the long hours of training, the traveling that took up what little social life you might have had, and you pushed yourself to be the best. I was instantly intrigued by Barracuda when I learned that it was about swimming, even more so because Barracuda was the name of the team I swam for on the state level.
The narrative follows Danny Kelly through his youth swimming and his adulthood, which has been deeply marked by his swimming days, illuminating the struggles he has to reconcile his two selves (youth and adult). Cutting back and forth in time between childhood and adulthood, Danny’s story unfolds, albeit a little confusing at times just where in the narrative timeline the description is taking place. There were times when I thought that the events took place after something but in reality it was taking place long before–it wasn’t until I reached the end of the book to realize that there was a bit of Benjamin Buttoning going on with the younger timeline. I was also thrown a bit at how the narrative would sometimes appear to be in first person and others in third–perhaps it warrants me re-reading the novel to better comprehend the method being the seeming madness.
Concepts of failure and a sense of identity are prevalent in the story, yet they aren’t over done; it is conveyed in a manner that is mostly subtle and allows the reader to draw those conclusions themselves. I have to heartily applaud how Tsiolkas captured the mentality of swimming–the constant repetition, the freedom, the concentration of the body as a tool, various thoughts that float through your head, as well as the mindlessness that can sometimes occur while in the zone. The writing was descriptive and thorough, placing me back in my swimming days.
If you are/were a swimmer, you’ll probably really enjoy this novel and the perspective if offers. If you’re not, I know you are intrigued about the human condition (we all are), and this is a good book for exploring the human condition, too.
Overall, I’d give it a 4 out of 5 stars.