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The book that’s gotten under my skin

Posted by on January 31st, 2014 with 0 Comments

One must always be careful of books

I would NEVER have read Barracuda by Christos Tsiolkas. I’d heard bad feedback about his previous book, The Slap – characters without any redeeming features, violence, pettiness, suburban ugliness – stuff I prefer to live without. I knew he wrote gritty books, full of bad language and dark psychological places (and don’t get me wrong, Barracuda still delivers!) And the story, of a teenage boy striving and failing to achieve Olympic Gold, was of little interest.

Except… it was my book club selection this month, and I’d joined the book club specifically to discover new authors and extend my reading adventures.

I put off reading it until I’d run out of everything else… three library books, the other fiction in my Santa sack (the excellent Burial Rites, by Hannah Kent), Munchkin’s new Horrible Histories Annual… The truth is, it had me scared!

Which is understandable. It’s a raw and confronting read. The anger of its lead character, Danny Kelly, is truly frightening (is this what I have to look forward to when the Munchkin hits teenage years?) It pokes fun at my middle-class Australian life. It holds up a dark mirror to a national culture that I do not feel part of… I wonder if that is because I am so entrenched in it.

But that’s not why it got under my skin.

This is a book about achievement… and failure. Through its lead character, a young, talented swimmer with the potential to achieve Olympic Gold, we come to ask the difficult questions.

  • What happens when we strive to be the best, put in everything we have, and still miss out?
  • Are our kids resilient enough to handle disappointment when we keep telling them they’re awesome?
  • Can we still be passionate and committed to a goal when we’re only aiming for “good enough”, rather than “perfect”?
  • Should we be competing and comparing ourselves with others at all?

Sport is the obvious medium for creating unreasonable expectations within a competitive environment, but it applies equally to academic pursuits, the arts, popularity, appearance.

I look at my own unrealistic goals as a girl and young woman. Just like Danny’s single-minded ambition to be “the strongest, the fastest, the best”, I wanted to be “the most talented, the smartest, the best”.

This crazy ambition all but destroyed the pure joy I once had for my two greatest childhood passions – design (not that I knew it was called that when I was a kid) and singing. It prevented me from pursuing paths that would have brought great happiness and fulfillment. It’s been a long, hard, painful lesson.

As the epiphany came this week, I finally got back in touch with that young girl who had the whole world ahead of her… the one who added her designer’s touch to everything she could get her hands on… her school projects, her friends’ school projects, her stamp club posters, her colouring books, her doll house, her cubby and bedroom. The one who sang with confidence. ALL. THE. TIME. For the sheer JOY of it.

It’s time to bring her back…

As we see Danny gradually find a purpose for his talent and passion for swimming – one that helps others and offers meaning to his life – so I too need to rediscover my gifts and passions with new eyes. Not to be the best, or for glory or reward, but to bring richness to my own life, and joy and abundance to others.

For this book, which despite its rawness (and maybe because of it), brought about a personal epiphany, plus some valuable lessons to apply to how I raise the Munchkin… Today I am grateful!

Have you read it? What did you think?
What books have gotten under your skin?

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Hi, I’m Cath

Cath Connell

Creating my amazing life one tiny moment at a time. Bringing the Hubby, a Munchkin and about a dozen tomato plants along for the ride.

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