Boy Swallows Universe by Trent Dalton [7/10]

Australia has a recent tradition of generating “feral” novels starring those society tends to overlook (think Tim Winton’s recent “The Shepherd’s Hut,” Tony Birch’s “Ghost River,” and “Sophie Laguna’s “The Eye of the Sheep“). “Boy Swallows Universe” fits neatly into this stream and also into a strand of extravagant yarning. Set in early 80s Brisbane, Trent Dalton plunges us into the world of twelve-year-old Eli. Brother Gus is mute and possibly clairvoyant, stepfather Lyle is a drug dealer, and babysitter Slim is a famous escapee. His family is as dysfunctional as can be: druggy mum and alcoholic dad. Eli’s enemies are legion. The author writes up a storm, a wonderful lyric mixture of Eli’s adventures, if adventure is the proper word for events humorous or harrowing. It’s a highly immersive coming-of-age tale, and although at first I was underwhelmed by the hyperactive bravura of it all, by the end, by the time Trent Dalton puts all the pieces together for his rousing finale, I was mightily impressed. A bright debut by a promising author.

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