‘Loaded’ by Christos Tsiolkas

Loaded

Fiction – paperback; Vintage; 151 pages; 1995.

Loaded is the first novel by Australian writer Christos Tsiolkas, he of The Slap fame. To say the book is loud, brash and in-your-face would be an understatement. It brims with raw energy, power and verve. It’s audacious — and confronting.

It’s also pornographic and those who don’t really want to know the detail of casual, often anonymous, gay sex should probably stay clear. But the sex is central to the novel’s focus, for Ari, the narrator, is 19, unemployed and trying to find his way in the world. He is bored — and self-destructive. He’s looking for any kind of experience to lift him out of his ordinary, dull, suburban existence. And if that means getting it off with strangers in nightclubs and public toilets, then so be it.

Ari is also a drug user — and occasional pusher.

Stark subject matter

Yet despite the stark subject matter and the clear-eyed prose, there’s something sad and tender about this story.

Spanning just 24 hours, we get a glimpse of Ari’s frustrating home life — his father, a Greek immigrant, calls him an “animal” and is prone to angry outbursts; his mother, an Australian, shouts and nags — and see how he prowls the city — its streets, its suburbs, its nightclubs  — because he needs “something else going on”.

What’s clear from the outset is that Ari, aimless, directionless and confused by his sexuality, has a bleak world view shaped by the things he sees around him — his parent’s unhappiness (“I love my parents but I don’t think they have much guts. Always complaining about how hard life is and not having much money. And they do shit to change any of it”), the casual racism among his peers and the ways in which the immigrant community is just as obsessed by money and class as the “skips” (white Australians).

He thinks he looks like John Cusack

He is intelligent, good-looking (“I saw John Cusack interviewed on late-night television and he looked like me”) and obsessed by movies and music. In fact, he spends most of the novel mooching around listening to mix tapes on his Walkman (the music references are particularly good if you are of a certain, a-hem, vintage).

But what resonates most is Ari’s sense of alienation — from his parents (in particular, his father’s Greek background), his older brother (who is studying at university and is not afraid to stand up against his domineering parents), his friends (who have gainful employment) and himself (never quite sure if he is gay or straight).

This alienation is reflected in the city he sees around him — the narrative is very much tied to Melbourne’s suburban enclaves and is split into four parts named East, West, South and North — which he loves and loathes in equal measure. I particularly enjoyed his references to suburbs and places I know from my time living in Melbourne (which is about the same time that events in the book take place) and thought his descriptions of the Eastern suburbs (which are more affluent than the West) — with their “continuous loop of brick-veneer houses forming a visual mantra” — pretty much spot-on.

In the East, in the new world of suburbia there is no dialogue, no conversation, no places to go out: for there is no need, there is television.

An angry young man

The strength of the novel lies in Ari’s voice, which is angry, full of self-loathing and deeply cynical. He’s not necessarily a likable character, but he is empathetically drawn.

Loaded isn’t the type of novel you read for “pleasure”, but it’s worth reading because it offers an eye-opening peek inside a rarely seen world. It’s like getting on a rollercoaster for the first time: it’s deeply frightening but once the ride ends you’re glad you found the courage to experience it.

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6 thoughts on “‘Loaded’ by Christos Tsiolkas

  1. ‘Loaded’ is a fascinating book, but I always have an issue with Tsolkias’ work as he seems to have it in for anyone who doesn’t have his upbringing. In this, and ‘The Jesus Man’, there’s a lot of this sneering at the eastern suburbs (although his idea of where the eastern suburbs actually are has been superseded by urban growth!).

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  2. Thanks for reminding me about The Jesus Man… I have a copy here somewhere but I don’t think I flagged it up in my post about all those Australian novels I have in my queue but have never read.
    As per the Eastern suburbs, I think they extend as far as Cranbourne now — and even on the other side? I have spent my whole life travelling up and down the South Gippsland Highway and seen the slow, insidious creep of the suburbs turn farmland and bushland into god-awful housing estates.

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  3. I loved The Slap, both as a book and as a TV show, which is why I’m keen to explore his back catalogue.
    Glad to hear you enjoyed the TV show — I thought it was the best thing on TV last year. It had quite exceptional production values and the casting was superb.

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