Book Review: Boy Swallows Universe by Trent Dalton

Full disclaimer here, I love Trent Dalton. I also want to be Trent Dalton. He’s an Australian journalist and author, currently writing features for The Weekend Australian Magazine and is expecting his fourth novel to be published in late October this year (expect a book review for that one too). *There are no spoilers in this review*

I finished reading Boy Swallows Universe last weekend after reading it for around a month. This was not by choice, it was one of the easiest books to read and I never wanted to put it down – but when one is in the middle of the university semester, duty calls. After all, finishing this journalism degree is my best opportunity to become the next Trent Dalton, right?

I picked this book up after finishing his most recent novel, All Our Shimmering Skies, in July (5/5 for that one by the way, DEFINITELY READ IT). Out of these two books, I’m still not sure which one I loved more.

Boy Swallows Universe tells the story of Eli Bell and his brother August from the age of ten to 19. Living in Brisbane’s outskirts and raised by drug dealers, Eli and August’s childhood is filled with violence and poverty, and a lot of very VERY dodgy people. The book is loosely based around Trent Dalton’s actual life, with the main character Eli portraying him in a number of ways, which makes me want to ask him – hey, are you okay?

The way Trent Dalton writes is one of my favourite things about his books. His description of situations and characters allows readers to fall through the pages and stand amongst the unfolding storyline. Having grown up in Canberra in the 2000s, I have no idea what it was like growing up in the suburbs of Brisbane in the 1980s, but the picture Trent Dalton builds in your mind truly makes you feel like you are there with him every step of the way. It is for the same reason he is such an excellent journalist, but don’t let me talk about that (because I literally won’t stop).

One of the main similarities to Dalton’s life story within his characterisation of Eli Bell is his love of writing and drive to become a writer at The Courier-Mail (a newspaper in Brisbane where Trent started his journalistic career). Being a journalism student that is interested in writing, I found the passages of the book around Eli’s writing and perception of the world to be extremely interesting. It made me love his character even more.

As previously mentioned, the story covers a large chunk of Eli Bell’s life, detailing all his trials and tribulations, including some that remain largely unanswered until the end of the book. However, the last three or so chapters of this book literally were the BEST ENDING OF ANY BOOK I HAVE EVER READ. There were multiple occasions where I found myself going ‘ooooooooh of courseeeeeeee’, or ‘oh my god no way’ (not audibly because I’m not strange). It was the perfect combination of plot twists, and everything coming together perfectly.

One thing I hate more than anything else is when books, TV shows and movies have endings that are immensely unsatisfying (like the latest season of Sex Education – please someone agree with me). This was the complete opposite with Boy Swallows Universe. Random and unexplained (mostly horrible) things happened throughout the book and Eli’s lifetime, and it all seemed to smoothly come together at the very end in a way that was surprising and incredibly satisfying to me. Things from the very first chapter came back and played an important role in the ending of the story, and BOY was it intense.

In conclusion, the way Trent Dalton writes books (and everything else) is exactly why I love him and his work. His stories are almost interactive because of the quality of his descriptions, his characters are so well created and developed throughout the story, and the way he wraps everything up at the end is just so. damn. fulfilling. And they’re making it into a movie directed by Joel Edgerton! Yaaaaay!

If you couldn’t guess already, its 5/5 stars from me. Read this book.

Follow my Goodreads to keep up with all the (really excellent) books I read.

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