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Boy Swallows Universe - Book Review

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by Marina Marangos (subscribe)
Published September 29th 2018
And us all in the process
Trent Dalton's book
Trent Dalton's book
Living in Brisbane, I have wanted to read all its authors, explore its history and hear its stories. Recently I was given the perfect opportunity to meet another of its celebrated citizens. I had the pleasure to meet and hear Trent Dalton, a Brisbane born and bred author and well-known journalist when he was in the city to talk about his book Boy Swallows Universe.

I listened to him describing his very bizarre and unique childhood, his love for his mother, his babysitter "Slim Halliday" The Houdini or Boggo Road Jail and the stories that he had lived through. A lost father, a mute brother, a mum in jail, a heroin dealer for a stepfather and a notorious criminal for a babysitter and I knew that this was one book I wanted to buy instantly and read.

I have finished it now and I am writing to share with you all how much I enjoyed it. What a talented writer he is and what a beautiful story he relates in spite and not because of the trouble and the trauma which he encountered in his youth. And that is the remarkable part about the book. There is no blaming of others, there is no feeling sorry for himself, he owns it all and he is happy to share the very worst and the very best bits of it.

The story - two brothers, Eli Bell and August Bell (largely based on his own story) growing up in Darrah with a very loving but troubled mother and an absent father. The person to whom Eli is closest to is this character who is totally real called Slim Halliday. Slim, wise and caring - is full of stories that he relates to the boys and also imparts to them a philosophy of life which Eli, for the most part, adopts and puts into practice. Their daily life is rough, their language coarse, the pleasures few, the abuse occasional but real. The traumas quite confronting. The story compelling. '

What I enjoyed about his writing is that he has an attention to detail which always adds to the moment. It totally gives you what you need to see the picture he is creating. He has created a story with twists and turns and characters that all play a part in the final outcome. He writes with short and punctuated sentences which signify thoughts, each one a progression of the next " Time is up. Time is undoing".In another chapter: "Wait for the universe, Caitlin Spies. Wait for me".

"I scream. Then the redness. Then the blackness."

The book is some 470 pages - you zip through them, turning page after page as the conversations take up most of the book and they are as natural as they are exceptional.

His humour is wonderful. Sarcastic, playful, boyish and charming. I laughed out loud on many a page. The pages full of places in Queensland and more specifically Brisbane with references to events and places the time, which make it alive and engaging.

His title is the enigmatic Boy Swallows Universe. Eli Bell the principal boy and his mainly mute brother August take us into their world - indeed they swallow us up good and proper. They take us with them over several years in which the boys grow up, encounter many difficult moments which they have to make sense of and come out the other side with a great plan for the future. It is affirming of life and family in a way that perhaps we would not expect, given the characters and their trajectory. It is a reminder that home is so important and the love of those closest to you is precious no matter what the circumstances and for that, he has achieved a real winner.

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Why? Excellent debut novel from Trent Dalton.
When: Currently.
Where: Sold at all good bookshops.
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