Reviews of Boy Swallows Universe by Trent Dalton

Boy Swallows Universe

by Trent Dalton

Boy Swallows Universe by Trent Dalton X
Boy Swallows Universe by Trent Dalton
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Apr 2019, 464 pages

    Paperback:
    Apr 2020, 480 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Karen Lewis
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About this Book

Book Summary

An utterly wonderful debut novel of love, crime, magic, fate and a boy's coming of age, set in 1980s Australia and infused with the originality, charm, pathos, and heart of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.

The mind can take you anywhere you want to go

Eli Bell's life is complicated. His father is lost, his mother is in jail, and his stepdad is a heroin dealer. The most steadfast adult in Eli's life is Slim - a notorious felon and national record-holder for successful prison escapes - who watches over Eli and August, his silent genius of an older brother.

Exiled far from the rest of the world in Darra, a seedy suburb populated by Polish and Vietnamese refugees, this twelve-year-old boy with an old soul and an adult mind is just trying to follow his heart, learn what it takes to be a good man, and train for a glamorous career in journalism. Life, however, insists on throwing obstacles in Eli's path - most notably Tytus Broz, Brisbane's legendary drug dealer.

But the real trouble lies ahead. Eli is about to fall in love, face off against truly bad guys, and fight to save his mother from a certain doom - all before starting high school.

A story of brotherhood, true love, family, and the most unlikely of friendships, Boy Swallows Universe is the tale of an adolescent boy on the cusp of discovering the man he will be. Powerful and kinetic, Trent Dalton's debut is sure to be one of the most heartbreaking, joyous and exhilarating novels you will experience.

Boy Writes Words

Your end is a dead blue wren.
'Did you see that, Slim?'
'See what?'
'Nothing.'
Your end is a dead blue wren. No doubt about it. Your. End.
No doubt about it. Is. A. Dead. Blue. Wren

*

The crack in Slim's windscreen looks like a tall and armless stickman bowing to royalty. The crack in Slim's windscreen looks like Slim. His windscreen wipers have smeared a rainbow of old dirt over to my passenger side. Slim says a good way for me to remember the small details of my life is to associate moments and visions with things on my person or things in my regular waking life that I see and smell and touch often. Body things, bedroom things, kitchen things. This way I will have two reminders of any given detail for the price of one.

That's how Slim beat Black Peter. That's how Slim survived the hole. Everything had two meanings, one for here, here being where he was then, cell D9, 2 Division, Boggo Road Gaol, and another for there, that boundless and unlocked universe ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. Slim's view of the world is that: "We all got a bit o' good and a bit o' bad in us…" Discuss the ways in which characters in the novel are both good and bad at the same time.
  2. What do you think is the meaning of the red telephone, and the mysterious voice that speaks to Eli?
  3. Do good life lessons remain valid if delivered by evil men?
  4. What sort of man do you hope (or fear) Eli Bell will grow into?
  5. What do you think, ultimately, Eli Bell is searching for in life and in that secret room?
  6. Why do you think August chooses to be mute?
  7. Does the knowledge that much of this novel is based on Trent's own life change your reading of the book? Enhance it? Or does it not make a difference?
  8. Do you think that the trauma that Mrs. Birbeck ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Debut novelist Trent Dalton has crafted an alluring and literary account of the coming-of-age of two brothers who manage to thrive despite their parents' destructive habits. Boy Swallows Universe calls to mind other memorable child heroes like Huckleberry Finn or Holden Caulfield. The novel will likely appeal to fans of Cormac McCarthy (cited by the author as a literary influence) as well...continued

Full Review (800 words).

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(Reviewed by Karen Lewis).

Media Reviews

The Washington Post
Boy Swallows Universe hypnotizes you with wonder, and then hammers you with heartbreak. The events of Eli's life are often fatal and tragic, but fate and tragedy do not overpower the story. Eli's remarkably poetic voice and his astonishingly open heart take the day. They enable him to carve out the best of what's possible from the worst of what is, which is the miracle that makes this novel marvelous.

Washington Post
Boy Swallows Universe hypnotizes you with wonder, and then hammers you with heartbreak. The events of Eli’s life are often fatal and tragic, but fate and tragedy do not overpower the story. Eli’s remarkably poetic voice and his astonishingly open heart take the day. They enable him to carve out the best of what’s possible from the worst of what is, which is the miracle that makes this novel marvelous.

New York Times
Eli, who notices everything and speaks in a kind of hyperactive journalese, is still somehow open to the world, and frequently amusing as a result...One can’t help quibbling that the story seems designed with an eye to its own presumed dramatic adaptation. (Dalton’s résumé includes a few screenplays.) The violence is occasionally too much...In this thrilling novel, Trent Dalton takes us along for the ride.

Booklist
Starred Review. [A] marvelously plot-rich novel, which…is filled with beautifully lyric prose…Exceptional.

Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Dalton's splashy, stellar debut makes the typical coming-of-age novel look bland by comparison…In less adept hands, these antics might descend into whimsy, but Dalton's broadly observant eye, ability to temper pathos with humor, and thorough understanding of the mechanics of plot prevent the novel from breaking into sparkling pieces…This is an outstanding debut.

Kirkus Reviews
A likable debut that trades its early high-flown ambitions for dramatic but familiar coming-of-age fare.

Sydney Morning Herald (Australia)
Welcome to the weird and wonderful universe of Trent Dalton, whose first work of fiction is, without exaggeration, the best Australian novel I have read in more than a decade ... In its deft integration of the sacred and the profane, of high ideals and low villainy, it somehow reminded me of a favorite French movie, Diva. A rollicking ride, rich in philosophy, wit, truth and pathos.

The Australian (Australia)
It is such a pleasant shock to encounter a new Australian novel in which joy is shamelessly deployed ... [Dalton] invests this unlikely cast and milieu with considerable energy, wit and charm. He delights in the play of language and imagination that a child can summon: the sense in which the clear moral eye of youth can critique and adore simultaneously without judgment or adult moral finessing.

The Weekend Australian (Australia)
A wonderful surprise: sharp as a drawer full of knives in terms of subject matter; unrepentantly joyous in its child's-eye view of the world; the best literary debut in a month of Sundays.

Author Blurb A.J. Finn, author of The Woman in the Window
Joyous. Simply joyous. I hugged myself as I read it. My heart raced, swelled, burst; my eyes leaked tears; my stomach ached from laughter. Boy Swallows Universe is - I can't think of a word more apt - magical. This vibrant, vital, altogether miraculous coming-of-age novel marks the debut of an exquisitely gifted storyteller... and what's more, it's transformative: After reading Trent Dalton's book, you won't be the same as you were before.

Author Blurb David Wenham
An astonishing achievement. Dalton is a breath of fresh air - raw, honest, funny, moving, he has created a novel of the most surprising and addictive nature. Unputdownable.

Author Blurb Nikki Gemmell
Trent Dalton is the most extraordinary writer - a rare talent. A major new voice on the Australian literary scene has arrived.

Reader Reviews

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Beyond the Book

Brisbane, Australia

Brisbane skylineBrisbane (pronounced "brizz-binh"), the capital city of Queensland, Australia, is the setting for Trent Dalton's debut novel Boy Swallows Universe. In an essay in the Weekend Australian Magazine, Dalton describes his hometown with his trademark literary flair: "Brisbane is a bat-sucked mango wedged in your mower blades...Brisbane is all five senses working toward a sixth. It smells like mangroves and boiled mud crab and tubs of pineapple pieces on cannery conveyor belts."

That said, Brisbane offers much for the modern tourist to experience, and also has a distinctive history. The city began as a penal settlement in 1824, built by British colonists on indigenous lands. After World War II, waves of immigrants arrived from Europe and ...

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