Loaded by Chris Tsiolkas

Loaded – Chris Tsiolkas
Publication: 1995 (paperback), Random House Australia
Page Count: 151
My Rating: Intellectual Read
“Speed is exhilaration. Speed is colours reflecting light with greater intensity. Speed, if it’s good, can take me higher than I can ever go, higher than my natural bodily chemicals can take me. […] On speed I feel macho, but not aggressive. I’m friendly to everyone. Speed evaporates fear. On speed I dance with my body and my soul. In this white powder they’ve distilled the essence of the Greek word kefi. Kefi is the urge to dance, to be with good friends, to open your arms to life. Straight, I can approximate kefi, but I am always conscious of fighting off boredom. Speed doesn’t let you get bored.”
The first novel by popular Australian author Chris Tsiolkas (author of proclaimed novel, The Slap), Loaded follows a night in the life of 19 year old Greek Australian, Ari. Throughout the course his evening out in Melbourne, Ari takes an overwhelming amount of drugs and has sex with a number of men, defining himself as homosexual but not gay. The novel moves with many flashbacks of thoughts and moments that define Ari, interweaving in a way that gives the reader a narrative version of a drug trip.
In 1998, Loaded was made into a film (titled Head On) which was met with varied response, mainly as a result of its graphic portrayal of homosexual sex.
My Thoughts
This is a novel that you will either love or hate. Unusually, I found most of Chris Tsiolkas’ characters highly unlikeable and the subjects of drugs, homosexuality, racism and cultural identity to be considered in a highly confronting manner. But while I certainly found it to be confronting, I must say I walked away nodding and thinking “Well played, Tsiolkas!”; he is certainly a skilled author who asks his reader to think about the realities within our society.
Reading this for a university class, I admired Tsiolkas’ skill in simultaneously disgusting the reader while compelling them to keep reading. On one level, this is an incredibly graphic, disturbing novel, but considering it within the context of our modern society it encourages an Australian audience to consider the complex make-up of our culture.
As typical to Tsiolkas’ novels, the consideration of cultures (predominantly the Greek culture) within the Australian landscape is thoroughly explored. Through the eyes of Ari, we question the cultural ties first-generation Australians have to the psyches of both the homeland and Australia. Ari doesn’t “fit in” with either the Australian “skip” culture or the Greek “wog” culture. He revels in his difference and loudly proclaims it. I thoroughly loved the novel for this thought; from my experience this is an issue many first-generation Australians face (although not neccessarily with the amount of animosity and hate that Ari experiences!).
Tsiolkas is brave in his detailed description of homosexual sex; this is not a topic widely considered in mainstream literature, after all. In the course of one evening, Ari has multiple anonymous sexual encounters, all described in haunting detail. This, combined with a chilling reflection of sodomy leaves the reader shocked, and works to show the underbelly within our culture. I think this is why it is so compelling; it is not shock-for-shock’s-sake, it is a purposeful and powerful consideration. But it must be said, in the wrong hands or with a different perspective, this novel could be considered a dirty, gross piece of work.
Drug use is also widely considered, and I must admit I wondered a number of times if Ari would still be standing by the end of the night given the amount of alcohol he drinks, coupled with the copious ingestion of drugs. Considering Ari’s evening is portrayed as a typical evening out, Tsiolkas made me consider today’s drug culture, and question how our society will ever progress.
Due to the illicitness of the themes Tsiolkas considers, I would only recommend Loaded to someone approaching it with an open mind. It is a stirring intellectual read and will certainly stay with you long after you finish it.
Where Can You Get It?
To buy Loaded for a great price and shipped straight to your door for free, follow this link to the Book Depository.

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