I’ve just finished reading Boy Swallows Universe and my heart is still racing. From the beginning that is an ending to the ending that is a beginning, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Admittedly I did just tear through it in four days in preparation to see the stage adaptation this week but honestly that impetus wasn’t needed – I genuinely wanted to read it in every spare minute I had.
Eli Bell is a teenager growing up through the 80s and 90s in suburban Brisbane. He has an older brother who doesn’t talk, a babysitter who escaped prison, and a dad he doesn’t know who lives somewhere on the other side of town. Eli is on the cusp of becoming a man but still sees the world through a boy’s eyes, telling himself kind-of-magical stories to make sense of the things he doesn’t understand yet. Everything about his world feels slightly familiar – whether you’ve grown up in Brisbane or not, whether you’ve been raised around drug deals and family violence or not – the themes of family, friendship, love and learning really are universal.
Eli is a really charming character and you just have to love him. One of his most endearing characteristics is his sweet memory device in which he fuses a moment with a visual: I will remember the rainbow of old dirt wiped across Slim’s windscreen through the shape of the milky moon rising into my left thumbnail… And after a lifetime of teaching myself about other parts of the world through popular culture, it feels wonderful to imagine international audiences (because I’m not sure, but I do hope this novel has gained popularity outside of Queensland, if not Australia) pondering what the hell is ‘the Ekka’ and a ‘dagwood dog’ and a ‘banana paddle pop’ and why can two of these things barely exist one without the other?
This is the kind of book that will leave you thinking about it long after the last page has been turned and I can definitely see myself re-reading it down the track. Highly recommend!!