For my previous review, I started with the original short story, and then watched the adaptation; with Barracuda, I first watched the adaptation, then decided to read the book it was based on.
Barracuda is available as a box set on the BBC iPlayer, and it seems odd to me that a program with such high production values has been ghettoised to an online audience only, under the banner of the BBC’s ‘youth’ channel. The book is certainly not ‘young adult’, and I can’t work out how much the series would actually appeal to that demographic.
I’ve seen the film Head On, and read Christos Tsiolkas’ short story collection Merciless Gods, I kept waiting for something terrible to happen in the TV series, and it does, but not the level of violence I was expecting.
As with the adaptation of ‘Story of Your Life’, it is interesting to see what is included, what is left out, what is simplified, what is added, what is changed, and how much or how little these alterations change the spirit of the story.
The TV series only covers Danny’s teenaged years and a few years after he leaves school, the book covers a lot longer; elements of the book are changed to simplify and compress; the disabled cousin becomes the disabled patient, the Glaswegian boyfriend Danny leaves Australia to follow becomes a physiotherapist he works with as part of his community service, Danny’s relationship with Luke is not fleshed out. The most obvious change is probably downgrading the prison sentence to community service (but try filming that for a general audience!).
The two most significant changes, to me, are in the portrayal of Danny’s relationship with his family, and in the portrayal of Danny’s sexuality. Danny’s family life is sanitised and idealised in the series, he loves his parents and siblings, and only argues with his father once, in the book he despises his father the whole time (except for one short section that goes back to his very early childhood), and his mother a lot of the time. In the series his parents are unequivocally supportive, in the book, only his mother is.
The class analysis is played down a lot in the TV series as well, the scene at Martin’s grandmother’s birthday meal is still there, but it is much much uglier in the book.
In the book, Danny’s homosexuality is almost incidental, there are no big ‘coming out’ scenes, it’s just a given fact of his adult life. Danny’s desire for Martin is a major plot thread of the series, but in the book, he doesn’t make a pass at him (or have sex with his sister), and his attraction is only acknowledged with hindsight – and then only subtly, Danny can remember exactly what Martin’s face looks like.
There is no explicit homophobia in the book; ‘f*ggot’ is thrown around as an insult as much as ‘w*g’, but there is never any sense of Danny hiding his sexuality from other people, instead his sexuality is sublimated entirely into his swimming, to the point where he avoids masturbation as a waste of energy. He only ‘comes out’ to himself when he starts having sex with another man in prison (given that, the complete lack of mention of HIV, or any other STIs in the book seems odd).
The changes make the TV series as much a story about (homo)sexuality as about sport, but in the book it is the sport, the macho competitiveness, and Danny’s shame at his failure, that is the main theme.
This is interesting, as the author of a certain garbage book (a garbage book that I hope very soon to have forgotten that I read at all), has claimed that men are incapable of expressing emotions such as fear, vulnerability and shame.
Barracuda the book is saturated with shame and fear and self-loathing; shame is the main emotion Danny feels after his swimming career is over, it is the driving force of the rest of his life (during one scene, in a restaurant, he is so afraid to leave his table and risk running into an old classmate that he pisses himself). It is being called a looser that causes him to smash a glass into Martin’s face, not thwarted desire. Toxic masculinity, the ideology of winners and losers, is examined in the TV series, but it is much more explicit in the book.