Danny Kelly, the main character in Christos Tsiolkas’s first novel since The Slap (2010), is a gifted swimmer born into a mixed-race, working-class Melbourne family. In 1994 he wins a scholarship to a private school (‘Cunts College’, as he refers to it), where he can be trained properly, the aim being to win gold at the Sydney Olympics in 2000. However, since the narrative starts in a shiftless present in which Danny has a criminal record, a flaky relationship and no clear prospects, we know that things probably do not work out.
At school he is not merely considered a bit different by the posh kids but also instantly and viciously (and not all that convincingly) hated and bullied. It is in the pool alone that things go well. Danny becomes the best of a talented bunch, winning the national under-16s’ title.