Narrative Style: First person moving back through events, third person moving forward through events.
Synopsis: Danny Kelly has one desire – to win olympic gold. His whole life is focused around swimming, racing and training. When he loses for the first time, he feels the world come crashing down on his head. He almost doesn’t recover.
At the beginning of the novel, the grown up, present day Danny Kelly is clearly in a bad place in his life. He is out of place – both literally and metaphorically – and unclear where his life is going. You know something has gone badly wrong for him. This is reinforced in the third person sections of the text which describe Danny starting a fee-paying school on a swimming scholarship and his many racing successes. The reader is immediately drawn in. What on earth could have gone wrong?
Clues are slowly revealed such as the fact that Danny has been in prison. The first person narrative moves back in time and presents such a startling contrast to the third person that at times it is hard to believe that this is the same Danny Kelly. The two narratives converge on the same moments in time in roughly the middle of the novel. It was nerve-wracking reading up to this point as it becomes more and more apparent what is going to happen. I wished so hard to be able to stop the inevitable but Danny could not be stopped from hitting the very bottom.
After this, the pace changes, the first person narrative is now the one that is filled with the joy of swimming as it relives Danny’s early years and the third person narrative shows Danny slowly becoming a new person after his spell in prison. There is still a contrast between the two narratives but it is less jarring than in the first half of the book and I began to hope that Danny would find some sort of contentment.
One of the reviews that I read of this book suggested that it was ridiculous that Danny would fall apart after just one race but I think that actually Tsiolkas describes his downfall well. It is all tied up with the fact that Danny is working class in an essentially middle/upper class environment. When he fails, it is only the inevitable catching up with him. Even his father seemed to believe that failure was just there waiting for him. There is no sense in trying again as he there would only be more of the inevitable. Tsiolkas offers a strong commentary on class and the meaning of success in this novel. I particularly enjoyed his critique of the Sydney Olympics which was close to how I felt in 2012.
Danny is gay but this is just an accepted fact and causes him no problems. The problem for Danny is his class not his sexuality. It was very pleasing to read a novel where sexuality was just taken as a given, not as an issue in and of itself. Definitely one of my reads of the year.