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2019 - Shortlisted
Boy Swallows Universe is journalist Trent Dalton’s critically and popularly acclaimed debut novel. It’s hardboiled Brisbane noir coming of age meth-soaked magical realism, a genre-defying cocktail that should be undrinkable, but is both satisfying and sweet.
Eli Bell is growing up too fast, trying to catch his innocence in the rear-view mirror of a life populated by junkies, dealers, mystic mutes, alcoholic TV quiz whizzes, wannabe samurais, Samaritan bikies, philosopher maybe-murders, limb fetishists, cold-eyed llama farmers and bluebirds of prophecy. He is sustained by the love of a brother, mother, father (and father surrogates) and a woman he will one day meet.
Dalton drew on his own disrupted childhood, his mother’s overcoming of adversity, and his experience as a journalist in writing Boy Swallows Universe – and the truth that underpins the work makes its surrealist elements seem real. Witty dialogue punctuates absurdist whimsy. Black comedy is highlighted by lighter touches. Grotesques deliver cracking one-liners. Although this story of the power of love in life’s struggle towards the light is not defined by its humour, its humour shines through.