2019 Aussie male author challenge · 2019 Reviews · Australian · contemporary fiction

Book Review: Boy Swallows Universe by Trent Dalton

Title: Boy Swallows Universeboy swallows universe small.jpg

Author: Trent Dalton

Published: June 18th 2018

Publisher: 4th Estate AU -Harper Collins Books Australia

Pages: 480

Genres:  Fiction, Contemporary

RRP: $32.99

Rating: 2.5/3 stars

Brisbane, 1983: A lost father, a mute brother, a mum in jail, a heroin dealer for a stepfather and a notorious crim for a babysitter. It’s not as if Eli’s life isn’t complicated enough already. He’s just trying to follow his heart, learning what it takes to be a good man, but life just keeps throwing obstacles in the way – not least of which is Tytus Broz, legendary Brisbane drug dealer.

But Eli’s life is about to get a whole lot more serious. He’s about to fall in love. And, oh yeah, he has to break into Boggo Road Gaol on Christmas Day, to save his mum.

A story of brotherhood, true love and the most unlikely of friendships, Boy Swallows Universe will be the most heartbreaking, joyous and exhilarating novel you will read all year.


Boy Swallows Universe, by debut author Trent Dalton is 2018 publication from Fourth Estate, an imprint of major Australian publisher Harper Collins. It was released to critical and popular acclaim, earning a place on bestseller lists and book clubs across the country. It has also been a permanent fixture on the social media circuit, which is where my interest was first sparked in this novel. Inspired by the real life events experienced by the author of this coming of age tale, Trent Dalton, Boy Swallows Universe is meditation on the trials and tribulations of a turbulent boyhood, life and humanity.

Dubbed an Australian classic in the making and likened to the work of the great Tim Winton, Trent Dalton’s Boy Swallows Universe opens in Brisbane in the mid 1980s. It is centred on the story of Eli, a thirteen year old boy from a troubled family. His brother is  mute, his mother a junkie, his father is an absent figure while his stepfather is a drug dealer. To top it all off, his babysitter is a convicted killer. While Eli negotiates the world around him, he must learn a tough lesson of what constitutes as right and wrong. He follows his beating heart and must work to avoid life’s obstacles.  Things come to a head for Eli when his absent father comes back on the scene and together they must stage a spectacular jail break to rescue his mother. Boy Swallows Universe is about the alliances we make in life and the connections that matter most.

I am a real schmuck when it comes to spectacular book covers and I must admit that Boy Swallows Universe gained my full attention from the first glimpse I had of this vibrant cover. The accompanying motif of a blue wren amongst the bold colour splashes also caught my eye.  With so much positive media attention and endorsement for this book, I was keen to explore it for myself.

What I respected the most about Boy Swallows Universe was the fact that the author, Trent Dalton, lays his childhood and personal experiences bare on the page for the reader to discover. Even though this is Trent Dalton’s life story, it is in the guise of a fiction novel. I applaud Dalton for this bravery and his openness. I takes guts to tell a story of this nature and he does this with a sense of honesty. But, we must realise that this is a fiction based novel, so Dalton has clearly taken liberties and changed certain details of his life story for the purposes of this novel. I was stuck early on by the truncated prose.

‘Your end is a dead blue wren. Boy swallows universe.

Caitlyn spies.

No doubt about it.

These are the answers.

The answers to the questions’.

Coming of age novels seem to be all the rage. I know I have read a good handful over the last year. Boy Swallows Universe easily falls into this category. It also offers a glimpse into sibling connections, troubled family relationships, role models, boyhood, first love and masculinity. These are strong themes, explored alongside unlikely friendships, morality, tragedy, loss, danger and adventure. Combining  these dramatic themes alongside the big characters in this novel gives more credence to this tale of a boy finding his feet in 1980s Australia.

Reading this tale of growing up in 1980s Australia was nostalgic for me. I also grew up in the 1980s, but my own childhood was far removed from poor Eli’s experiences. It gave me an appreciation for my sheltered and happy childhood! Dalton does a good job of recreating 1980s Australia, with a particular focus on Brisbane and the housing commission experiences of the underclass of this region.

Boy Swallows Universe is a book that emphasises action, drama and adventure. Life isn’t easy or smooth sailing for young Eli and he is a colourful narrator.  There are plenty of twists and turns to keep the reader occupied, along with good serve of destructive pathways for Eli to negotiate. This is all told in good humour and wit, thanks to Dalton’s prose.

Ultimately, I have the feeling I may be the outsider with this book. I have drawn out as much by the way of positives as I can. In the end, I felt disconnected from the book, for reasons I cannot pinpoint. Whilst I had an appreciation for Dalton’s intentions, my relationship with this book, no matter how hard I tried, did not flourish. However, if you are reading this and are thinking twice about reading Boy Swallows Universe, I do suggest that you give it chance, as there is so much praise racked up for this one.

‘I stand on the thick edge of that brown brick prison wall and I see a yellow sand beach below me, but that beach does not run to the ocean water, it runs  to the universe , an expanding black void filled with galaxies and planets and supernovas and a thousand astronomical events occurring in unison’.

Boy Swallows Universe by Trent Dalton was published on 18th June 2018 by 4th Estate AU – Harper Collins Books Australia. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.

To learn more about the author of Boy Swallows UniverseTrent Dalton visit here.

*Book #1 of the 2019 Aussie male author challenge

3 thoughts on “Book Review: Boy Swallows Universe by Trent Dalton

  1. I read an article about Trent Dalton a while back and he seems to be a real sweetheart. I think the article was about a letter he wrote to his dad, very moving, made me tear up.
    This book is a must read for me after having read the article on him.

    Liked by 1 person

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