Boy Swallows Universe – Audiobook Review
Author: Trent Dalton
Genre: Literary, magical realism, crime, historical fiction, faction
My rating: ★★★★★
Release Date: Published 24th June, 2018 by Bolinda/HarperCollins audio
Format: Audio, 16 hours, 42 minutes
What did I think?
A New York Times article said that the book is a “50-50” mix of fact and fantasy according to Dalton (and his mother). I found that out a quarter of the way through and soon gave up pondering what was what. Instead, I let myself get drawn into the awesome and outrageous factional world that Dalton created. The story is a blend of grit, magical realism, beauty and tragedy that, as I write this, seems like it shouldn’t work. Yet it does.
Boy Swallows Universe is set in a working class area of Brisbane in the 1980s. The main protagonist Eli Bell is a well-crafted character who endeared himself to me. Sure, he (SPOILER read on Goodreads). A young philosopher at times, at others a straight shooter, this quality makes the ‘child narrator’ (of which I’m not always drawn to) more palatable for me, although the story eventually sees him into adulthood.
I particularly enjoyed the references to setting and time period given that I was born in Brisbane myself and was a teen of the eighties. It had been many years since I’d thought of of Miss Helena and Romper Room and though our family never bought it, I remembered Tang. That weird, orange powdered drink that some friends would have. When I recite this line on my death-bed at least I’ll go laughing: “I’m fuckin’ dying and you’re giving me weak Tang!”
There is swearing in this book. A lot. Excessive swearing has put me off a novel before, but in this case it’s fitting and I have absolutely no problem with it.
Horror is a part of this novel. The horror of crime, family violence, and of addiction. There were even a couple of bits involving animals that made me wince. Many of the people that Eli and his brother were around were frightening and unstable. Eli and Augustus had to deal with much more than children should have to. This story wasn’t always pretty.
Yet, Dalton said in an interview with Harper Collins “I just wanted to give the world a story. To turn all these crazy and sad and painful and beautiful things I’ve seen into a crazy, sad, tragic and beautiful story.” There is no doubt he did that. There was a tenderness, and it seems like som special magic that he wove it in there, amongst the grit. Dalton also said that love was threaded common throughout the novel and he was right. Love is there, too.
The book has won several awards and the audiobook I listened to, narrated by Stig Wemyss, won the Australian book industry ‘Audiobook of the year award’. I’m not surprised as Wemyss did a fantastic job.
I almost gave this story a miss…child protagonist? Not for me, I thought. I’m so glad I didn’t skip it. This is a strange and wonderful story and one for which, the end — despite my amazement regarding some events in the book — I did not see coming until it happened.