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Boy Swallows Universe

4.54  ·  Rating details ·  3,018 ratings  ·  401 reviews
A novel of love, crime, magic, fate and coming of age, set in Brisbane's violent working class suburban fringe - from one of Australia's most exciting new writers.

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 t
Paperback, 464 pages
Published June 18th 2018 by HarperCollins Publishers Australia
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Popular Answered Questions
Seanfish A coming of age novel about a gay person set in Brisbane 1983 would have them leaving Brisbane in the first chapter so no.
Peter After listening to this interview, I'd say the answer is unequivocally "yes":
That said, Eli does comment that…more
After listening to this interview, I'd say the answer is unequivocally "yes":
That said, Eli does comment that the ability to bullshit is essential to a writer, so where fact ends and fiction begins is impossible to know. Amazing as it may sound, though, the red telephone and its location are/were real, apparently.(less)

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“Lyle says he approaches a drug deal in the same way he approaches Mum when she’s in a bad mood. Stay on your toes. Stay alert. Don’t let them stand too close to the kitchen knives. Be flexible, patient, adaptable. The buyer/angry Mum is always right.”

Oliver Twist meets The Godfather. Those were the first books that came to mind. Films and TV that came to mind were Breaking Bad, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, The Sopranos, and possibly a bit of Stephen King. But it’s 100% Trent Dalton, and what
What an amazing debut novel! Boy Swallows Universe has jumped straight to the top of my outstanding novels for this year. Trent Dalton has somehow managed to spin a yarn about a Brisbane boy growing up amidst poverty, violence and crime while infusing it with love, joy and humour. His words and characters leap off the page with freshness and originality and yet you feel you know these people and the streets they live on. Although not autobiographical, the novel is reportedly based on Dalton’s ow ...more
Aug 30, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 5000-books
So many good things about this book!!!

* The totally perfect cover. Not only the gorgeous colours but also its appropriateness to the story.

* The writing. Trent Dalton is a master of beautiful prose.

* The characters. I loved Eli and Gus and their solid and completely understanding relationship.

* The story itself which was horrific and mystical by turns and always totally absorbing.

* The ending which although a little far fetched was also satisfying.

For me it was slightly spoilt by too much inform
Dec 09, 2018 marked it as never-in-my-life  ·  review of another edition
“Cool, another book where a child is sexually exploited by an adult” said no one ever.
Can we please just stop supporting books that romanticise illegal relationships between adults and children.
I am so bloody tired of this harmful narrative.
Sharon Metcalf
Jun 24, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2018, netgalley
To say I was excited to discover a novel by Trent Dalton is a massive understatement.   Boy Swallows Universe is his debut novel but I've adored the authors writing for years.  He's an award winning journalist and I cannot get enough of the way he tells a story, the compassion in his words and the way I feel I know the people he writes about.     And so it was with the characters he brought to life in this novel.     

Eli Bell our protagonist is a young boy in Brisbane in the early 80's.  His ol
Lea Davey
Oct 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing
WOW!!! Was it just because I was born in Brisbane and have always lived nearby, or is this book simply the most clever, entertaining, emotional, funny, outstanding and amazing novel that I have read in a long time! I absolutely loved the familiarity of the places, but even more, the harrowing, rollercoaster tale of a young man called Eli who grows up in a severely dysfunctional family.

The story reveals the sinister, criminal and dangerous side of life that takes place almost around the kitchen
Jun 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing
When trying to describeTrent Dalton's debut novel the best way I can put is Life After Life combined with the movie The Butterfly Effect while settling on one life in an Australian setting. Protagonist Eli Bell's lives are unfortunate and chaotic with a drunk father, a purposely mute brother, a mother on her way to jail, a drug dealer step-dad and an ex-con murderer for a babysitter Slim. Also, only friend other than the nonrelated guardian is a prisoner pen-pal.

But when his step-dads greed trag
Jan 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This book is my new favourite Australian fiction novel and a strong contender for best book of 2018 (yes, I am calling it this early). Trent Dalton writes with incredible grace and his story keeps raising stakes I really didn't think could go any higher. Once I hit page 142, I couldn't stop. This book is addictive as hell. I already can't wait to reread it, and I have been struggling with every other fiction I've tried to read since. Trent Dalton has blown it out of the park with amazing plot, g ...more
John Purcell
Mar 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This book has a big heart. But it isn't Tuesdays with Morrie. Imagine if the kid from the Wonder Years, Kevin Arnold, walked into an episode of Underbelly, that's what it's like. Heart with a kick. And it does have quite a kick when it gets going. You'll know what I mean when you reach that bit... Oh boy. And to think, Boy Swallows Universe is almost a true story.

Loved this book. Get a copy.
Nov 15, 2018 rated it really liked it
No doubt about it, this is a bloody ripper of a book. No doubt about it.

Boy Swallows Universe follows Eli and his selectively mute brother as they navigate 80s inner-suburbs Brisbane. They are babysat by a convicted murderer, raised by a heroin addict mother and her drug-dealing boyfriend, and are often bullied mercilessly at school. However, as heavy as the situation is, Eli's narrative perspective is funny, sweet and incredibly refreshing. Far from naive, he still sees the world in shades of g
Jaclyn Crupi
Jun 17, 2018 rated it liked it
2.5 Another addition to the boy coming-of-age gritty Australian crime and criminal-populated genre. Think Jasper Jones, Breath, Wimmera. Dalton renders a distinct voice for young Eli which might have drawn me in had I not found the writing and plot affected and overdone, especially in the ‘Aussie-ness’ of it all. A lot of readers will enjoy this book I think and I’ll certainly be in the minority but as soon as I sense a falseness in fiction I am taken out of the narrative and all I see are the l ...more
Dec 31, 2017 rated it it was amazing
It's only been nine days but I have already read the best book of the year. Well, that might be a slight exaggeration but it's not far from the truth. At the least it was one helluva way to start a new year of reading.

Trent Dalton has poured his soul into this book, and you can feel the passion. It's a mix of ferocity and tenderness, childhood dreaming and adult fears. His writing is sublime, never trying too hard and always finding just the right details for the reader. It might very well be th
Jul 15, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2018, arc, australian, buzz
Boy Swallows Universe is the big buzz in Australian books right now. It’s going to sell itself, as all of the pull quotes and window displays tell us. First it’s about one thing, then it’s about another, then you turn the page and years have passed, but one thing is certain: Boy Swallows Universe is an Australian novel that is at least in part about children who have to fend for themselves in the face of their parental figures’ involvement in drugs. We certainly haven’t published one of those be ...more
Jul 11, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: my-bookshelves
I've been worried that the hype would oversell the book. Do not fear! If anything this book deserves even more hype. This is going to be in my top books of the year, it has everything I like in a book snarky humour, a rollicking pace, fantastic characters who are ghastly and loveable and a storyline that keeps giving. And it is funny, ridiculously horrifically funny!

Eli Bell is growing up in the outer suburbs of Brisbane. His mum and her partner are dealing drugs to make money and are both good
- ̗̀ fantine ̖́-
Jun 17, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Eli Bell doesn't yet know what kind of man he'll be. He knows that there are good men and bad men, but how do you tell which is which?

He thinks his step father is a good man, even though he deals heroin. His babysitter and best friend Slim is a good man, even though he was found guilty of murder. Everybody says philanthropist Tytus Broz who runs the prosthetic limb factory is a good man, but the chill that runs down Eli’s pure bone spine tells him otherwise.

This book blew me away in such a won
Jan 17, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Behold, Trent Dalton! Loved this book!! Straight to the poolroom, ***** / ***** I think I'll put him on the shelf next to Tim Winton, or somewhere near Roddy Doyle (the guy who wrote The Commitments etc), or maybe over near that shabby well read copy of Jasper Jones. Boy Swallows Universe has all the ingredients that I most love in a really GOOD story: it's Australian, it's the vibe, it's the oh so clever writing, it's the human experience of love, desperation, friendship, failure and hope, it's ...more
Oct 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing
You don’t have to be Australian to understand this book. You will understand Australia if you read this book. It’s dreamy and nostalgic, and it’s bleak and hard.
David Barton
Dec 31, 2017 rated it it was amazing
If you read one book this year it has to be this. Simply brilliant, the best book I’ve read in a long, long time. Beautifully written with a real honesty.
Dec 25, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A book that has you laughing and crying within the first ten pages is off to a very good start. An emotional rollercoaster, Boy Swallows Universe is set to become an Australian classic. Jasper Jones, Melina Marchetta, Tim Winton, My Brother Jack, Christos Tsiolkas, Johnno... add Trent Dalton to the list.

Set in the Brisbane suburbs, this is a novel has everything - hardship, family, love, a little crime and mystery. But above all it is deeply moving, and an incredible portrayal of a life in the s
This is just a superb book. The kind of book where you have the dilemma of wanting to race through it to find out what happens next and at the same time wanting to slowly savour the poetic language. Australia in the 1970s and 1980s feels authentically described, and the danger from the seedy underworld that surrounds Eli and his brother is certainly real and yet there is also humour in the way Eli toils through life with the optimism that things will be OK. I absolutely loved this and didn't wan ...more
Anna Baillie-Karas
Sep 14, 2018 rated it really liked it
This book has so much heart. It’s generous, touching & at times very funny. Slightly unbelievable but every word rings true. I loved the friendly, engaging tone and narrator Eli - a flawed, sympathetic & bright character. Whilst larger than life, the characters are completely realistic & vividly bring to life suburban 1980s Brisbane. It gives a great sense of the culture & people doing it tough in outer suburbs. A great yarn, highly recommended.
Laura Brading
May 03, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I get the feeling that we're all going to be hearing a lot about this book. That quote on the back that forecasts it to be an Australian classic is not just publisher hyperbole, this is an amazing read. And a debut no less from journalist Trent Dalton. Set in suburban Brisbane in the 80s (full disclosure, I'm originally from Queensland, things got nostalgic), it's the coming of age story of Eli Bell who has a fair bit more stacked up against him than your average teenager. His father is estrange ...more
Jul 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This book was fantastic and one of the best I’ve read in some time. I’ve been a fan of Trent Dalton’s journalism and always look out for his features in the Weekend Australian magazine so I had high hopes for this novel. It’s a mix between a coming of age/crime/family/epic drama, and I didn’t want it to end, but when it did, I was so satisfied. There were some very confronting scenes, but balanced by lots of warmth between the characters, all very original and complex. Highly recommended!
Kali Napier
Jul 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is the most incredible book I’ve read in ages, if ever. I found it difficult to tear myself away from this fictional universe each night and when I did I lay awake for ages turning over the images in my mind.
Jacqui Barton
Jan 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I just loved everything about this book, it made me laugh, cry and sometimes both.
A beautiful coming of age story that had me from the start. The writing was just beautiful.
Shirley Bateman
Sep 18, 2018 rated it it was ok
I gave this a good chance but I just couldn’t finish it. So irritating. It felt like a children’s book about drug addicts.
Jul 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Genuine genius
Angela Pickett
Sep 03, 2018 rated it it was amazing
When a book is this good, you actually don’t want it to end. A most incredible tale told in the most brilliant way. My review would do it no justice. Just read it
Kirsty Wenn
Jul 27, 2018 rated it it was amazing
There is a place forever reserved in my heart for the Bell brothers. How do I even begin to review this amazing book? I know I simply won't do it justice. I'll just say it tugged me by the heartstrings from beginning to end. Just brilliant.
Matthew Hickey
Jul 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites, 2018
Among this extraordinary story, one question Eli, the protagonist, asks repeatedly is “are you a good man?”

From boyhood to manhood, a string of damaged and damaging men come and go from the lives of Eli and his speechless brother, August. Some are the source of the brothers’ trauma, others are the source of their resilience and strength to overcome it.

Coming of age amidst a colourful cast of criminals, Eli’s constant meditation is on the notion of goodness. Even more than the intricately woven
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Trent Dalton writes for the award-winning The Weekend Australian Magazine. A former assistant editor of The Courier-Mail, he has won a Walkley, been a four-time winner of the national News Awards Feature Journalist of the Year Award, and was named Queensland Journalist of the Year at the 2011 Clarion Awards for excellence in Queensland media. His writing includes several short and feature-length f ...more