Review of Christos Tsiolkas’ Loaded
Original Review Title: Loaded Reloaded
IN THE reissue of his first novel, playwright, screenwriter and award-winning author Christos Tsiolkas gives the reader the chance to experience twenty-four hours as Ari – the unemployed, closet gay, escapist, 19-year-old Greek-Australian living in suburban Melbourne.
Bored with his life and unwilling and unable to conform to the traditional existence expected of him, Ari lives a world of vexation, constant intoxication and anonymous sex in public bathrooms, bedrooms and dark alleys. During the course of the 1995 novel Loaded, he moves through Melbourne looking for distraction and rebelling against responsibility while friends, family and the occasional opportune stranger pass through his orbit.
From the very first line, Tsiolkas has created a distinct and believable character. There is no question that this is a teenager who is honestly sharing his story with the reader. Nothing is withheld, romanticised or embellished. Moreover, the heavy hint of boredom running through every moment described between the covers places the reader in exactly the right frame of mind – transporting them back to a time of life when everything seemed a frustrating, repetitive mess.
Both sexuality and drug taking are dealt with in a realistically off-hand way. Like many teenagers Ari makes each decision with no deep thought beforehand. The opportunity is there and he takes it. There are moments of concern about health and danger but that is all they are – moments.
The search for freedom
He has a constant need to both escape his life and find something to inspire some sort of feeling besides boredom within himself. This, along with his contempt for the “conformed” life-choices of those around him, is expressed on a regular basis throughout the novel – one seemingly feeding the other in a symbiotic spiral of destruction. The stronger his contempt and subsequent boredom, the more his desire for escape and attempts to do so via increasingly larger quantities of drugs, alcohol and sex.
Surprisingly, Ari is in no way portrayed as an addict. Despite his nonstop and ever-increasing use of substances from the start until end of the novel, he is portrayed as a recreational user and views addicts with pity but sees no connection between himself and their own lives.
Another device for “escape” in the narrative is the use of music. Throughout the day’s journey, a Walkman and selection of mixtapes accompany Ari. Though the use of tape and a cassette player will seem dated to any new reader, it not only serves as a wonderful reminder to the time in which it was first published, but also suits the mood far better than a preloaded MP3 player ever could. In fact, even had it been written and published in recent years, a tape player and homemade tape would still suit best. In any case, the songs give insight to the character’s frame of mind, as well as giving a tactile and acoustic connection to important people in his life, and, along with other “external” music give a virtually constant soundtrack to the story.
Darkness and Destruction
Underpinning the narrative is a collection of subtle and relatively disturbing descriptions of abuse, all written in a very matter-of-fact way, all trying their best not to bring attention to themselves. These are moments of spousal and child abuse of various levels which, chillingly, seem to be accepted as normal by all the characters.
Indeed, this more than anything else, is what draws attention to Ari’s desire to be nonconformist as an impossible and destructive lie. Despite his beliefs and his disgust at the way his family and peers live their lives, he too, as much as any of them, chooses to ignore what he does not want to think of.
In all, Loaded presents a very realistic description of a night out for many young people and one not many adults would choose to admit. Its charm – or lack thereof depending on each individual’s point of view – is in its choice to lay everything bare without judgement. It is well written and very easy to follow, allowing any reader to immerse themselves in it with very little trouble.
Despite being an uncomfortable read at times, it is not shocking enough to discard. As it is well paced, by the time the characters actions become a little too extreme for many peoples tastes, there is a strong enough investment in Ari’s wellbeing to encourage the reader to continue until the end.
Perhaps not the best choice for some more sensitive and easily disgusted individuals, it is however a very engaging read and very much worth trying.
By Christos Tsiolkas
Vintage, 2011. 160pp, 10.35euros
Melbourne born Christos Tsiolkas is a multi-talented writer. Not only is he the author of four acclaimed books, but he is also a playwright, essayist and screen writer. Of his books – Loaded, The Jesus Man, Dead Europe, and The Slap – two have won or been put forward for national awards. His first novel, Loaded, was adapted in to a film called Head On (1998) while his latest offering, The Slap, has been turned in to a series of the same name featuring well-known actors such as Jonathan LaPaglia, Melissa George and Alex Dimitriades (who also starred in Head On)