Monday 13 February 2012

REVIEW: Loaded, by Christos Tsiolkas (3.5*)

(Vintage, 2011)

I wasn't quite sure what to expect from this little book, having read such mixed reviews of Tsiolkas's better-known novel The Slap.  But this one - his first, and pretty short at 151 pages - sounded right up my street, so I thought I'd give it a go!

I was actually very pleasantly surprised.  It is an almost stream-of-consciousness narrative from the fascinating mind of Ari, a nineteen year-old gay Greek boy living in Melbourne.  Ari is simultaneously an aggressively confident young man, and completely conflicted about everything, veering between vehement certainty and utter helplessness.  He isn't entirely at ease with his sexuality, his friends come and go around him, he despises the confinement of traditional Greek life, and he has absolutely no sense of where he's going - despite his occasional protestations to the contrary.  All he really knows is that he loves movies and music, sex and drugs, and that being loaded keeps him calm, quiet and almost content.  The novel drags the reader along for a 24-hour ride inside his head as he snorts, shags, drinks and meanders his way through another day.

A few times as I was reading I found myself thinking, "Wow, THIS is what I wanted when I read Catcher in the Rye!"  I didn't identify with Salinger's whiny Holden Caulfield at all, but I rather liked Ari.  His voice is angry, passionate, intelligent and provocative, and even when I didn't agree with him I couldn't help but feel a admiring respect for his brutal arguments and perceptive observations.  I think as a character, he is so interesting because he can so readily see the beauty of other people and places and situations, yet seems to be incapable of translating that beauty into his own life and future.  I really felt for him!

Despite all this, I didn't give Loaded a higher rating, because although I was completely absorbed in Ari's world, it was quite slow going (perhaps surprisingly, given that Ari is sky high for half of it) and I don't think it will ultimately be a particularly memorable read.  There were one or two moments that really made me cringe, particularly the scenes in various clubs around Melbourne which invariably contain awful descriptions of dancing - frequent mentions of 'jumping around', and what moves Ari's 'working in' from his dance repertoire.  I found these parts incredibly jarring - though perhaps Tsiolkas intended them to be that way, to reflect the way Ari's drugged mind made some unnaturally slow and conscious decisions about even the most mundane of things?  Who knows - all I know is, I didn't like it much.

At any rate, Ari was a wonderful guide to the seedier underbelly of Melbourne life - the dark alleys for fumbling liaisons, the tangled, insular existence of the many different ethnicities on the outskirts of 'skip' society - and I liked the novel enough to give The Slap a try at some point.  I also ordered the screen adaptation, Head On, which I'm rather looking forward to.  Recommended for those who don't mind their literature buzzing, explicit and occasionally a little uncomfortable, even as it forces them to stop and think about the world from a new perspective. 

Notable Quotables:
  • "In the three minutes it takes the song to play I'm caught in a magic world of harmony and joy, a truly ecstatic joy, where the aching longing to be somewhere else, out of this city, out of this country, out of this body and out of this life, is kept at bay.  I relive those three minutes again and again till I'm calm enough to walk back into life again."
  • "They'll tell you God is dead but, man, they still want you to have a purpose.  They'll point to a child and say there it is, that's purpose, that's meaning.  That's bullshit.  A child is a mass of cells and tissues and muscle that will grow up and will become Jack the Ripper or the president of the world.  Maybe.  More likely it will grow up and become a dole statistic.  Worse, it will grow up and become an accountant."

Source: I bought this book from Amazon UK, I think?