Boy Swallows Universe by Trent Dalton, Australia, 2018

Boy Swallows Universe by Trent Dalton, Australia, 2018

This is an amazing, refreshing, perplexing, wonderful book where a thirteen-year-old boy, Eli, and his one-year-older brother, Gus (who has chosen not to speak), live in an outer-Brisbane suburb with a mother who is a drug addict, a step-father who is a drug dealer, a baby sitter who is a convicted murderer, and a father who spends most of his time in a drunken stupor.

Part autobiography and part fantasy, the book is a product of Dalton’s skill in being able to seamlessly weave together what is known with what is simply imagined. His three older brothers together form the character Gus, while the notorious, real-life, drug-king, Titus Broz, is given a pivotal roll in the story, a roll where it is impossible to say how much is actually real and how much is not.

In the end, whether the story follows fact or fiction is really of no particular importance, because this is a story about love. Eli’s love for his mother, for Slim the convicted killer, for Lyle his stepfather, for his older brother, and, finally, for Caitlyn Spies the journalist.

Dalton brings humour and an acute sense of observation to situations, which, although they are often horrific, also contain a glimmer of hope and a feeling that things will eventually get better. And, threaded through the entire book, there is the suspense conjured up by the two statements, written in the air by Gus at the beginning of the book: ‘Your end is a dead blue wren’ and ‘Boy swallows universe’. The statements reappear, intriguing the reader, throwing out suggestions and possibilities until, at the very end, that which may have made no sense suddenly makes some (if not a lot of) sense.

Definitely a book to read and to love – you will not regret it.

The photo of Trent Dalton is from the ABC

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