Boy Swallows Universe
By Trent Dalton
Eli Bell’s drunken dad is replaced by a heroin dealer as his mother struggles to hold on to a positive attitude, and that’s just the start of Eli’s teenage years. Through conversations with a brother who will not talk, business with a gangster, and letters with notorious criminals, Eli’s fate appears inevitably tragic. However, this young man has more wit and strength in his struggling little frame than anyone else knows, and he’s determined to drag himself out of the poverty of Brisbane’s fringe suburbs in the eighties. He’s going to drag himself up to the world of journalism by challenging the criminal underworld that has poisoned his childhood.
An instant Australian classic, Boy Swallows Universe is simultaneously glorious and horrifically morbid. Every time the characters have some success, something in their lives twists to tear them back down. As the story follows one young boy, most of the other characters fade into the background. The impacts of every personality on Eli Bell stick with him as he decides how he would like to start his adult life, and the drama that develops with the crime is a thrill to read.
The writing is descriptive and entertaining, even as the language follows a teenage boy’s vernacular. Dalton captures the frustration of a young man powerless to impact his mother’s desperate activity as the police and criminal elements of society close in. Read Boy Swallows Universe if you have any interest in watching the inner workings of Australia’s underworld through the eyes of a teenager.