Review: Boy Swallows Universe by Trent Dalton

Is there a word for re-reading an absolutely loving a book that you disliked the first time around? If so, this most definitely sums up my experience of re-reading Boy Swallows Universe. Published in 2018 to widespread acclaim, and winning multiple awards, Boy Swallows Universe is a semi-fictional account of author Trent Dalton's childhood with a dash of magical realism thrown in. We meet Eli Bell, an ordinary kid growing up in Brisbane in the 1980s, whose Mum is a recovering heroin addict. His older brother Gus hasn't spoken a word since their parents split up. Then there is his stepdad, Lyle, a drug dealer, and his babysitter just happens to be one of Queensland's most notorious criminals. But, at the heart of it all, they're all just regular people trying to get by as best they can under the circumstances they've been given. Circumstances, which get increasingly complicated as time goes on. And which have a truly innovative end.

As previously stated, I found Boy Swallows Universe a lot more interesting the second time around. Truthfully, I probably would not have picked it up again if it had not been for the Netflix series, but I am glad I did. I found it a lot easier to pick up on various cues and things within the novel when I wasn't in such a rush to find out what happened, and I was able to appreciate just how clever some parts of the story were. Many parts are, of course, larger than life (such as when Eli breaks into the jail to visit his mum at Christmas, or when he finds a way to smash a school bully's kneecaps and gets away with it,) but that is also what makes the story so entertaining.



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