The Australian author Christos Tsiolkas created something of a stir two years ago with The Slap, which was actually his fourth novel but his first to be published in the UK.
It was met in equal parts with acclaim and scorn – the latter camp focusing on the copious explicit sex scenes and the apparent misogyny contained within its pages.
Such criticism seemed to miss the point completely, however, as The Slap also did a brilliant job of exposing huge cracks in Melbourne society and, by extension, Australian society. Dealing with issues of race, sexuality and class, it painted a bleak portrait of what is supposed to be a land of opportunity, and Tsiolkas proved himself a prose craftsman of the first order.
In the wake of The Slap's international success (it won the Commonwealth Writers' Prize, was longlisted for the Man Booker and has just been adapted into an eight-part television series in Australia) we in the UK are getting to sample Tsiolkas's earlier work. His third book, Dead Europe, is due out later this year, but for now we have Loaded, his incendiary debut novel, originally published in 1995 and subsequently made into the indie film Head On.
Loaded deals with a lot of the same issues as The Slap, and attempts to achieve many of the same aims, but the author takes a very different stylistic approach. Whereas The Slap was a considered, panoramic look at Melbourne society, shifting subtly and successfully between eight different viewpoints, Loaded is a high-octane, drug- and sex-fuelled romp through 24 hours in the life of Ari, a 19-year-old Greek-Australian gay man living on the margins of society.
Strutting from house party to bar to club, from hash to speed to coke, from partying with transvestites to casual handjobs in the bushes, Ari is an equal opportunity misanthrope, hating everyone and everything but doing so in such an enthusiastic and, it has to be said, funny way as to make him completely compelling. He hates whites, blacks, Muslims, Asians, Africans, Turks, Greeks, his sensible friends, his not-so-sensible friends, his conventional parents, the men he has sex with and the men he lusts after but can't have.
Of course, there's nothing particularly new about teenage nihilist fury – it's been captivating readers at least since Holden Caulfield was only a glimmer in J D Salinger's eye. But there is such a remarkable energy about Ari's narrative in Loaded, and so much self-aware humour and pathos, that it is utterly absorbing, and reminiscent in that respect of such debut novels as Bret Easton Ellis's Less Than Zero or Irvine Welsh's Trainspotting.
Loaded is a glorious, almighty "fuck you" to Australian society, a primal howl of angst and anguish. It certainly lacks much of the craft that Tsiolkas displays in his later work, but makes up for that in its splurge of irrepressible energy and its unique view of the world.