Boy Swallows Universe by Trent Dalton
Boy Swallows Universe moved me deeply, in the same way Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief or Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time did. Perhaps it’s because the character observations are told with such deference and humour. Or possibly this novel broke my heart because I read it knowing that the author (and Walkley Award-winning journalist) Trent Dalton was telling the truth and, once you know that, there is no recourse to telling yourself that it’s just a story. You can only become an observer, and if you are fortunate, that time traveller of an author will take you firmly by the hand and lead you through the corridors of wrecked families and dreams and still permit you to love all those people you meet along the way. This is Dalton’s story of his childhood state, where corruption ran wild, drugs were counted and parenthood was a loose definition.
Boy Swallows Universe opens up the doors to a parallel universe where it’s hot and it is 1983 and there is bad music playing and long Queensland night skies. His protagonist, Eli Bell, has calamitous circumstances. His brother is purposely mute, his dad is a drunk, his beloved mum is headed for jail, his step-dad deals heroin, his babysitter is a convicted murderer and his only friend, apart from his brother, seems to be his prison pen-pal. Also, he falls in love. Is this too much? I guarantee it’s not. Dalton has poured his soul into this book. And by doing so, he has ensured that this novel’s magical realist refrain carries an overwhelming emotion of hopefulness.
This novel will be on my favourite list for the year because the writing is worthy – in the best sense of the term – and noble and, in the reading of it, I was taken far away from our winter skies.