Written in response:
Julieanne Lamond’s illuminating review of Christos Tsiolkas’s Barracuda is a fine illustration of the importance of long reviews. I have been watching the ‘oh gosh, this is fab’ short reviews, and wondering why no one has been able to talk about the faultlines in this ambitious book. I reviewed it for Australian Book Review and felt I did not get close to explaining what Lamond is able to describe in her thoughtful essay.
I am not sure, however, that it is useful to bring up, again, the suggestion that there is an antipathy towards the ‘dreaded middlebrow’. As Lamond points out, Tsiolkas’s writing in Barracuda mimics the emotional inadequacies of the main character in ways that are occasionally long-winded or banal. That’s not middlebrow; it is just not quite up to the task. We all know that the intensity of literature at its best almost hurts to read, which is why it is so glorious. I am sure Tsiolkas would love to find and create that intensity. It is not to do with fancy ideas or grand themes; it happens when the writing unlocks dormant or hidden parts of our conscious selves. I reckon Tsiolkas tries to get there with his descriptions of the sensation of swimming and also the intensity of the sexual desire when Dan is in prison. If his writing was as twanging as what he describes, it would be sensational.