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Library Journal Review
Dan Kelly has the Sydney Olympics in his sights. One of Coach Torma's golden boys, though he's a Melbourne working-class lad on scholarship at a posh private school, Dan knows he's the fastest swimmer on the squad. But, like Icarus flying too close to the sun, Dan ignores his coach's advice and fails spectacularly in front of thousands. Internalizing the shame, he rejects the comfort of his family and best friend Demet, nursing a visceral rage at the world he believes denied him glory. This anger explodes in a violent altercation that lands Dan in prison, where he steeps himself in literature and begins the process of reinvention. Once outside, Dan works as a caretaker of adults with disabilities and forges a relationship with his lover, Clyde, who penetrates Dan's carapace for a while. But even a move to Clyde's Scotland won't help Dan find redemption. Only in Australia, in the bosom of his family, will he become a man he can look at in the mirror. VERDICT This disturbing yet satisfying story by Commonwealth Prize winner Tsiolkas (The Slap) examines themes of class consciousness, family conflict, loyalty, and friendship. The often harsh, sometimes brutal novel about the fine line between love and hate, pain and pleasure, is infused with language so beautiful that it takes one's breath away. [See Prepub Alert, 3/31/14.]-Sally Bissell, Lee Cty. Lib. Syst., Fort Myers, FL (c) Copyright 2014. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Publishers Weekly Review
Tsiolkas (The Slap) tells the story of the pressures of trying to live up to high expectations. Relentlessly bullied at the elite Australian private high school he attends on scholarship, working-class Dan Kelly shows early promise as a swimmer. With the hopes of his parents, coach, and suddenly envious classmates riding on him, Dan becomes fixated on winning at all costs. But when he places fifth at his first international championship race, he breaks down, lashing out violently at his former friends and turns to alcohol for consolation. When a masochistic affair with the wealthy Martin Taylor brings Dan's sexual identity to the fore, he finds himself at the breaking point and comes close to committing murder. He spends some time in prison, and, after his release, he travels to his family's homeland in Glasgow, where he falls in love with the angelic Clyde. But before he can get too involved, he must return to Australia, face his mistakes, and try to reconcile with his struggling family. The novel has all the early signs of a classic failure narrative along the lines of Exley's A Fan's Notes, but it loses direction in its second half. Additionally, the alternating chapters-in which the contemporary Dan speaks in the first-person-are actually more distant than the more affecting third-person parts. This story never quite realizes its full potential but Tsiolkas's sincerity qualifies it as solidly middleweight. (Sept.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
The water was like air to Danny Kelly. Thanks to his swimming ability, the working-class Australian boy earns a scholarship to an expensive school, but the life he was dreaming of is shattered when he performs poorly in his first big championship. His pain at losing is stinging and pervasive, and his struggle to find an identity out of the pool provides the grist for this physical coming-of-age tale. Tsiolkas (The Slap, 2010) perfectly captures the arrogance and agonies of youth, complete with profanity and locker-room mockery, the endless posturing of an all-boys school. So complete is the separation between Danny the swimmer and Dan the adult that Tsiolkas even uses different forms of narration for the two sides of his character as the story bounces back and forth. Stunned and adrift, Dan embarks on a search for meaning, as he slowly tries forgiving himself and his loved ones. His emotions hum mercilessly beneath the surface, and the novel, although slightly bloated, burns with razor-raw insight. His is a ferocious failure, and it translates to engrossing reading more so, in fact, than most tales of sporting triumph.--Thoreson, Bridget Copyright 2014 Booklist
Kirkus Book Review
Australian novelist Tsiolkas (The Slap, 2008, etc.) serves up a bracing poolside critique of Antipodean mores. The trope of athletic contest as coming-of-age backdrop is an old one, though more seen in film than literature since the days of The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner. Tsiolkas' latest takes an athletically gifted young manDanny here, Dan there, Barracuda everywhere, thanks to his habit of churning up the water and devouring his opponentsacross two decades. As we find him at first, Danny, a working-class scholarship student, is on the loutish side, swimming for a school that he calls "Cunts College," a place for the rich and privileged and not the likes of him. Only dimly self-aware, Danny flourishes under the tutelage of a Hungarian-born mentor who had coached the team "to first in every school sports meet of the last seven years." The fact of Coach Torma's foreignness is important, because everyone in Australia, it seems, is from someplace else, and immigration and exile underlie the Greek-descended author's story. In time, Danny, now a grown-up Dan, will be someplace else, too, for though he is Olympic material, he fails to live up to his promise for reasons that move the story along, taking him to far-off Glasgow and into the complexities of sexuality, so torn up about events that he can't bring himself to enter the water. Dan's struggle to resolve the too-abundant conflicts that beset him, including hinted-at legal trouble, makes us sorry to see the once-golden boy stumble and fall. Still, he finds redemption of a kind in his homeland, which remains welcoming even though Dan/Danny has only an untutored, reflexive appreciation for its moderate politics; at the end, as Tsiolkas has one accidentally wise character note, "[w]e're lucky here, Danny, this country just sails on, impervious to the shit that the rest of the world is drowning in. Jesus, no wonder any bastard who gets on a boat wants to come here." A tough, unsparing, closely observed and decidedly R-rated look at the many challenges and disappointments that life brings, told against settings that American readers will find at once familiar and exotic. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.