REVIEW: Boy Swallows Universe, Trent Dalton

Thursday, 7 November 2019

Brisbane, 1983: A lost father, a mute brother, a mum in jail, a heroin dealer for a stepfather and a notorious criminal for a babysitter. It's not as if Eli's life isn't complicated enough already. But Eli's life is about to get a whole lot more serious. He's about to fall in love. And he has to break into prison on Christmas Day, to save his mum. 

I am utterly confused. Like, confused to the extent that my mind feels as though it has been put through a high-powered blender. I have a feeling (if I can pull it from the muddle of my thoughts) that, in Boy Swallows Universe, Trent Dalton was going for abstract, fluid; a plot-structure that was as shifting and granular as the facets of human memory. This novel, after-all, is supposed to have been wrought from his own early childhood experiences and, maybe if I could actually piece together what was going on, I would lauded him for an attempt well done. I know, I suppose more than most, what it is to look back on your early years and see flashes; no birthday parties playing as if on a film-reel, no faces tangible in blown-out colour. But, the fact is, Boy Swallows Universe feels more like my own barely-there memories than ones that can be conceivably turned into a successful novel - scrambled images fading to black. It was as though we were getting half of the story, a flash of every scene where the important bits (the ones that click together and make everything start to make sense) happen in some dank backroom firmly off-screen. Words were tangled up on top of one another; plonked together randomly as if it was written by one of those AI machines, only making the already scrambled, confused narrative-arc even further from my grasp. Oh, and how I longed to grasp it but unfortunately, Boy Swallows Universe continued to lack the corporeal form that would have made it possible.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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