Wednesday, 17 July 2019

Boy Swallows Universe, by Trent Dalton.

           At the beginning of this explosive and brilliant story, Eli Bell is 12 years old and lives in a working-class suburb of Brisbane, Australia with his ex-junkie mum, her drug-dealer partner Lyle, and his mute 13 year-old brother August.  August is not disabled, but mute by choice;  in his opinion, there’s not much worth talking about, but he has a wealth of facial expressions that communicate his opinions perfectly, especially to Eli, who ‘reads him like a book’ sometimes whether he wants to or not.
            When his mum and Lyle go to the movies (deliver drugs to third-tier dealers) the boys’ babysitter is Arthur ‘Slim’ Halliday, an elderly ex-criminal friend of Lyle’s, who thrills Eli with stories of his time Inside, and his attempts (some successful) to escape to the Outside but – despite a decidedly unconventional upbringing and sporadic schooling,  Eli has very few complaints about his life, for he is loved by his family and loves them wholeheartedly in return.
            Until Lyle makes a fatal mistake:  his heroin supplier is Drug Lord Tytus Broz, who has all the local counsellors and coppers in his pocket:  he prizes loyalty above everything, and when he learns that Lyle has done a sneaky side deal with another supplier, there is only one solution:  the annihilation of Eli’s family, starting with Lyle, taken away who knows where, never to be seen again;  a trumped-up prison sentence for Eli’s mum, and the amputation of Eli’s forefinger in an attempt to make August reveal information even though he doesn’t speak.  Eli’s precarious but carefree life is changed forever by Tytus Broz and his goons, and whatever happens in the future is beyond his control.
            Or is it?  For Eli’s mum has always said that her two boys are special, and their next few years in the custody of their alcoholic father (Child Custody Services getting it right again!) turn out to be a time to gather strength, hone special skills, search for Lyle’s hidden drug money – and plot an unexpected revenge.
            Oh, this book is a delight!  By turns horrifying and hugely funny (nothing like humour to counter all the blood), Brent Dalton has created a family that is special indeed:  Gus, who speaks volumes with the curl of a lip and the raising of an eyebrow, and Eli, impulsive, impetuous, exuberant and bursting with life and ideas, good and otherwise:  this wonderful story should be – DESERVES to be - an Australian classic.  SEVEN STARS!     

No comments:

Post a Comment