Boy Swallows Universe

Author: Trent Dalton

Publisher: Harper Collins

I was drawn to this book because it appears to be the Australian ‘Book of the Year’ and I felt that I should read it rather than wanting to read it. It isn’t an easy read and at times the gruesome violence can be quite difficult to read, but I like that it was set in Brisbane during the 80s when Brisbane was just starting to come into its own as a city and as Dalton shows this was both good and bad.

I found the story fascinating mainly because it was inspired by real-life events of journalist Trent Dalton’s youth.

Boy Swallows Universe follows Eli Bell from ages 13 to 18 and is set in Brisbane’s suburbia (a dangerous and violent place indeed). The book opens with Eli living with his mute brother, his mother and step-father – who is the local heroin dealer. And to add to the mix, his babysitter is an infamous criminal.

Dalton doesn’t hold back in his writing and he writes about prison, suburban crime, alcoholism, unemployment, domestic violence and you tend to believe it, knowing that Boy Swallows Universe is 50 per cent truth and 50 per cent embellishment.

Dalton shows both sides of everything. He shows Australian suburbia as both murky and ruthless and beautiful and charming. Human beings can be both dark and light. Everyone lives a life of choices and those choices will determine your path. Life isn’t mapped out for you and your fate isn’t determined – you decide your own future.

Boy Swallows Universe is not a happy book, but somehow Dalton makes this book joyful and hopeful. You never feel like Eli is going to be swallowed by the greed, addiction and violence. There is something about Eli. Even when he should be defeated and is defeated – underneath it all you can always feel that winning spirit about him. Eli is smart and strong-minded and likeable.

What I particularly loved about Eli was his love for his mum, step-father and his dad – the flawed adults in his life. Eli never blames and he never plays the victim. Eli is determined to understand what makes a good man and Eli wants to be a good man. Eli, though, does understand that being a good man is both complicated and straightforward.

Eli Bell is a character that you instantly fall in love with and who you want to succeed. Boy Swallows Universe is a novel full of escapades, humour and love. You will be taken on a ride with Eli and you will find it both exhilarating and frightening. You will laugh and you will cry, but most of all this book will make you feel hopeful.

Boy Swallows Universe is sure to become the next Australian classic.