This is an utterly magical novel set in Brisbane in 1983. It is a novel about crime, dealing with trauma, love, coming of age and families set in the working class suburbs of Brisbane. Trent Dalton is a journalist and this novel comes from his own past and the experiences he had within his own slightly dysfunctional family life. His blog post Why I wrote Boy Swallows Universe explains the impetus of the novel and it really brought the novel more brutally to life for me when I realised how some of what I considered outlandish events were actually based on truth. It is why the writing is so powerful I think as the true selves of the characters, who actually existed, come through in this fictional story.
Eleven year old Eli and 13 year old Gus Bell are considered special by their mother and they have that belief in themselves too – through terrible trauma and a lack of responsible adults in their lives. Gus is an elective mute after a trauma in the family when he was 6 and Eli was 4. And he believes in fate and magic. Slim (Arthur) Halliday was their babysitter, a convicted murderer, who had escaped Boggo Road Jail in the 1940’s and his experience and network helps Eli break into the jail to see his Mum on Christmas Day. Slim actually existed and was a part of Trent’s family life. Unlikely friends, worse enemies and two boys coming to terms with who they are and wanting to know what makes a ‘good man’ in a community of rogues, alcoholics, violent criminals and serious gang murders. The story is told through the eyes of Eli, a budding writer, and covers a number of years.
The 1980’s are also so well described (and remembered) here too. This novel crosses so many genres yet it still totally works and announces a wonderful new novelist into the Australian literature scene. The light yet powerful touch from Dalton regarding serious trauma, dysfunctional families, and criminal transactions seen through the eyes of a young boy trying to make sense of events that are not spoken about.
I totally recommend this novel and it gets a full five stars for me.
Boy Swallows Universe (eBook)
Boy Swallows Universe (MP3 CD)
Boy Swallows Universe (Downloadable Audiobook)