Book Review: Boy Swallows Universe by Trent Dalton

Trent Dalton’s novel Boy Swallows Universe is part crime novel, part coming of age story and part memoir. Eli Bell is a boy growing up in commission housing on the outskirts of Brisbane in the 1980’s with his brother August who doesn’t speak. It follows Eli from age twelve through nineteen when he realises his boyhood dream and becomes a journalist. As a child he gets life advice from his babysitter and mentor Slim who is a convicted murderer, and he lives with his heroin addicted mother and violent, drug dealing step father – until his stepfather disappears when his criminal past overtakes him, his mother goes to jail and Eli loses his lucky charm.

Eli and August then go to live with their father, an anxious, alcoholic man who is a prolific reader of fiction and buys Eli writing paper to ‘burn the house down or set the world on fire.’ And Dalton certainly set the world on fire with this novel.

The book has won more awards than you can poke a stick at including four ABIAs: Book of the Year, Literary Book of the Year, the Matt Richell Award for New Writer of the Year and Audio Book of the Year (Wavesound, narrated by Stig Wemyss); the UTS Glenda Adams Award for New Writing and Peoples Choice Award at the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards; the Indie Book Awards Book of the Year; and the MUD Literary Prize. Oh, and it’s going to be adapted for screen.

It’s a long work at 480 pages, but every one is packed full of humour, tragedy, hope, love and a splash of magical realism, all written in Dalton’s unique lyrical prose. It gets the one of my favourite ever books award because it’s a rollicking good read and I loved his writing style. I expect I will read it more than once.

Watch my language? Watch my language? This is what really shits me, when the clandestine heroin operation truth meets the Von Trapp family values mirage we’ve built for ourselves.”

Trent Dalton, Boy Swallows Univers

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