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Boy Swallows Universe - Book Review

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by Gillian Ching (subscribe)
I'm a freelance writer living in Brisbane who loves exploring quirky places with my dog. Join me on my quest to find, experience, and share fun things to do and interesting places to go.
Published September 11th 2018
Your End is a Dead Blue Wren
Photo courtesy Goodreads


Twelve-year-old Eli Bell and his mute brother August live with their once heroin-addicted mother Frankie in Brisbane's outer suburbs of Darra in the 1980s. The boys come to understand the term "hard knocks" as the Universe offers up a range of challenges in their young lives.

Against a background of drug deals, social disadvantage, suburban violence and a cultural melting pot, Eli dreams of becoming a journalist and moving from his Housing Commission community to the Brisbane suburb of The Gap and where he, his mum and brother can live in one of its houses built in leafy cul-de-sacs.

During this time, Arthur Slim Halliday, the infamous murderer and "Houdini of Boggo Road" is a constant friend and male figure in Eli's life amidst a line of Frankie's brutal, and abandoning boyfriends, husbands and ex-husbands. Having heard jail stories from Slim, Eli comes to understand prison life first hand when his mum also ends up doing prison time after a drug-dealing conviction and he and August live with his alcoholic father in Bracken Ridge.

Boy Swallows Universe is skilfully written and each sentence is neatly crafted with a deep simplicity. There's no denying that Boy Swallows Universe is honest albeit gritty and slightly gruesome, and sometimes confronting Overwhelmingly though it exists among a strange optimism. An unending sentiment of love and hope circles the story with an eternal sense that Eli will be okay and things will improve for he and his family and he learns to navigate life, fall in love and pursue his desire to become "a good man".

As someone who grew up in Brisbane, I recognised so many of the book's local landmarks the Stafford Skating Rink, the George Street law offices beside the Supreme Court, Moorooka Magic Mile, Jindalee Pool and of course, the notorious Boggo Road gaol. The list goes on. At times it felt like a road trip across the edge of Brisbane in the 80s.

Redcliffe is featured in the book


But most of all, Boy Swallows Universe is a story about love, family, hope, growing up, remembering to look closely and remember the details that surround our lives. It will surely be a best seller to put Brisbane and Trent Dalton on the literary map. Best read with a fizzy can of passionfruit Pasito and flaky pink iced vo-vos.

About the author - Trent Dalton
Trent Dalton is a journalist at The Australian newspaper. In his own words, he describes the book as being, "For the never believers and the believers and the dreamers. This book is for anyone around the world who has been 13 years old. This book is for a generation of Australians who were promised by their parents they would be told all the answers as soon as they were old enough. Well, now you're old enough."


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Why? Brisbane Based Novel by Trent Dalton
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Cost: $16.00 (depending on book sellers)
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