Boy Swallows Universe
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‘Boy Swallows Universe’ is a raw, coming-of-age debut novel by Australian journalist, Trent Dalton. The novel follows the main character, Eli Bell, as he grapples with finding ‘the answers to the questions’.
It’s 1985 in the suburb of Darra, Queensland, just south of Brisbane. Eli is 13 and juggling his junkie mum, a brother who doesn’t speak, a heroin dealer for a step-dad and a notorious criminal for a babysitter – and he has a lot of questions. Like whether or not ‘Slim’ Halliday, his notorious babysitter, really killed that taxi driver in 1952. Or whether his older brother, August, will ever speak, instead of writing cryptic sentences in the sky with his forefinger:
‘Your end is a dead blue wren.’
And Eli’s questions only get bigger and more complicated as time goes by. And as his questions get bigger, so do his problems.
Eli will have to come face to face with a psychopathic drug dealer and his cronies, meet the girl of his dreams, break into the Boggo Road Gaol to rescue his mum and meet the Dad he doesn’t even remember, all in search of ‘the answers to the questions’.
The only regret I have about this book is that I didn’t read it sooner. If truth be told, I picked it up more than once in the store, and, after reading it was an Australian novel, put it back on the shelf in favour of something more gritty.
But ‘Boy Swallows Universe’ was eventually in my hands, and before I knew it, I couldn’t put it down. The detail with which this novel was written is a colossal success. I have never read anything like it – and probably won’t for quite some time.
‘Boy Swallows Universe’ sent shivers down my spine, put tears in my eyes and made me look back on the raw truth of my own childhood – filled with drugs and thugs and alcoholics for family members. And although from the outset, we know Eli Bell has it tough, his story is one of finding himself, finding love and finding meaning in the mess.
This novel certainly sets the bar high for future Australian novelists, and has restored my faith in story-telling. ‘Boy Swallows Universe’ is a true masterpiece – a stroke of genius – and a testament to the author, Trent Dalton.
If you do anything before 2019 ends, read this book.