Ever since having read ‘The Slap’ last year (a total of two and a half times), for The Green Carnation Prize which it was long listed for – it was also listed for some prize called the Booker in the same year, I have been meaning to read more of Tsiolkas’ novels. I was rather chuffed when the new re-issued Vintage edition popped through my letter box a month or so ago and promptly sat down with it. It was an interesting experience to see that what I loved about ‘The Slap’ was all there, along with some of the things that I didn’t. I do also quite like the idea of everyone who has read ‘The Slap’ and found it shocking giving ‘Loaded’ a whirl, oh what they would be letting themselves in for…
The narrator of ‘Loaded’ is quite a fascinating one. Nineteen year old Ari lives in the city of Melbourne in Australia, he is Greek, he has no job, he is gay but secretly, he loves nothing more than going on massive drink and drug fuelled binges preferably with lots of random anonymous sex along the way. In fact from the first page where the novel opens with Ari masturbating with a massive hangover you pretty much know the story that you are getting here, well you think you do at least, as we follow him for the next twenty four hours.
Initially I didn’t think there was really any plot. In fact if I am honest I had written this book as one of those ‘lets write a really shocking book that gets me published even if it’s a cliché but everyone will read it anyway’ kind of novels. Yet as we read on between all the drug taking, drinking, etc there is a lot that this book is looking at and saying. One of the main senses you get is a sense of needing to belong, to be a part of something and yet rejecting that very thing at the same time.
“Are you proud of being Australian? The old mans question feels like an interrogation. The answer is easy. No, no way. Proud of being an Australian? I laugh. What a concept, I continue, what is there to be proud of? The whole table laughs at this and Ariadne gives me a hug. They forget me and continue their conversation.”
Its about fitting in and identity and in the case of Ari he doesn’t feel he fits in with the culture (because he is Greek and is Australian yet doesn’t feel he can be both) or with his sexuality (he hates the term ‘gay’, only sleeps with ‘men’ not ‘faggots’ and still sleeps with women when he is bored or drugged enough) and these things both add to his sense of feeling like he doesn’t belong in his family and that environment. In fact the family dynamic is another thing that Christos Tsiolkas looks at in ‘Loaded’ and this family is pretty dysfunctional. The parent’s of Ari, Peter and their sister Alex are volatile to say the least, one minute screaming obscenities at their children, next minute joining them in having a cigarette and an afternoon whiskey or three.
“If they were very angry they might come in, turn off the music, throw your CD or cassette against the wall. The screaming could go on half the night, wake up the neighbours, wake up the dogs. They called us names, abused us, sometimes hit us, short sharp slaps. It was not the words themselves, but the combination of savage emotion and insult, the threat of violence and the taunting tone that shattered our attempts at pretend detachment; it was Peter’s sly, superior smile, my sister’s half-closed eyes which did not look at them, my bored, blank face, that spurred my parents on to greater insults, furious laments.”
These were the moments when I thought Tsiolkas had the book spot on. We see other friends of Ari’s like Joe (very heterosexual) and Johnny (also known as Toula when in drag) and then through Ari’s sharing of their back stories get an insight into why they have become addicts, be it to the drink, the drugs or the sex. This was all brilliant and I could have read much, much more should Tsiolkas have written it. Instead sadly we get these marvellous moments of character and prose and then its back to the sex.
I don’t have an issue with sex in books; I’m not prudish, if there is a reason behind it. Twice in this book there is, one scene illuminates us to Ari’s self image issues and the psychology behind that and what he does to try and rectify it, the other proves a violent then emotional scene between Ari and someone who might just steal his heart. The latter was actually an incredibly effective piece of writing, so much sad in the violence and the silent post-coital cigarette after. Yet when we manage to have about six graphic sex scenes and several solo efforts within 150 pages I was just thinking ‘do we need this?’ It let the rest of the book down rather a lot.
‘Loaded’ is an interesting book. It is also a book where the effects of the wondrous prose is almost extinguished by the graphic scenes ‘set to shock’ and light up the readers indignation, or whatever effect was meant to be achieved. Take 85% of the sex away and you have a cracking and insightful read into the lives of some mixed up teenagers in the early 90’s. It would also be a really interesting angle of some of Australian life. Sadly with the sex left in some of that is lost, and so sadly was this reader. 6/10
Who has read any of Christos Tsiolkas’ other novels? Has anyone seen the film version of this called ‘Head On’, I did years ago, can remember little about it apart from it having the lead from Heartbreak High in it. I wish I had written about ‘The Slap’ after I read it the first time last year, after another read and a half I wasn’t so keen, in fact why didn’t I keep reviews on the computer instead of a notebook for all the Green Carnation submissions last year, drat’s! Isn’t it funny how sexing particular, be it of any orientation, can really put you off a book? In fact anything taken too far, in a graphic context, can almost ruin a book. Has this happened to you, would you care to share the novel and what put you off it?