February 07

Boy Swallows Universe by Trent Dalton

Guest Review by Mr M

Much like stories told around a dinner table, I think the best ones contain facts with entertaining embellishment and in my own case, the occasional physical performance for added effect. Trent Dalton’s book, Boy Swallows Universe is one of the most entertaining dinner table stories, but I must admit – at times – I found myself looking for a reason to excuse myself.

Let’s get the source of my annoyance out of the way first – the protagonist of the novel, Eli Bell sounded like a very well read, middle aged man rather than an adolescent boy growing up in the working class suburbs of Brisbane. I know it sounds petty but it kept pulling me out of the story and back into the real world every time. Yes, in my world I am a middle aged man.

The novel is a story of real struggle in contemporary Australia. It is raw with addiction, discrimination, exclusion and incarceration – the sad but usual topics written about for tragic daily news pieces. With a cast of characters that represents our multicultural suburbs, Dalton draws us into the challenges that Eli must endure and overcome.

The true appeal of the story is the complexity of Eli’s connections that cut across age, culture and life experience. It highlighted for me there is value in showing care to someone without expecting anything in return. Surprisingly, it’s also a story where mystery and fantasy can come together on hot, hard bitumen roads in the outer suburbs where most of us have grown up.

There is a lot going on in this novel but what I loved most were the interwoven stories of memoir, mystery and fantasy.

I was once told most of us believe we have a story to tell that would make a great novel. I doubt many of us have a story this good.

That’s my 2 cents.