- 02 July 2019
On Saturday, I devoted the day to reading the extraordinary beautiful and captivating, Boy Swallows Universe, by Brisbane journalist Trent Dalton.
I love when my favourite journalists write books. As this is a novel and I prefer non-fiction, it took me awhile to get around to reading, but here we are, and what an adventure!
Trent used to be assistant editor at (Brisbane's) The Courier-Mail, and now writes exquisite stories for The Australian. He writes about a lot of marginalised and forgotten people, and he writes about men. I have a lot of male friends, and mentor a lot of young males. I love how much you can learn from Trent's writing e.g. this Going Deep article on men and their emotional intelligence.
This book is not really a novel, it's very autobiographical. All about his Queensland, Australian suburban world when he was growing up, and the criminal underworld that exists in a low socio-economic area rife with instability, migration, crime, domestic violence, alcoholism, drug abuse and dealing, growing up faster that you should, all wrapped up in a raw, stark and real story of how trauma surrounding boys and men can affect all who come into contact with them.
As Trent says, "I just coughed out my heart, ripped it out and put it inside that book."
In a variety of interviews, Trent has said that his debut novel is above all about love and hope, and this really shines through, even the bleakest moments. I was attached to these characters in this re-telling of Trent's real-life situation growing up. Not only is it a story about love and hope, but friendship, words, poetry and books, solidarity, dreams, forgiveness and redemption, and all the people you know as your family.
What parts are real? That was what was in my head a lot through the book. In various interviews Trent has given, he mentiones 50:50 or 60:40 real:unreal. The real-life parts are: his stepfather was a heroin dealer who went to prison along with his mother, now a recovered drug addict. His father (who unfortnately passed before the book was released) smoke, drank and read excessively, and looked after him (and his three brothers) after his mother and step-father went to jail. His mentor was real-life convicted murderer and prison escapee Arthur “Slim” Halliday. His wife, also a journalist, is the love-interest.
Boy Swallows Universe has been published globally, translated into various languages, appearing in print in Germany, France, the Netherlands, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland, Poland and Japan. Oprah listed the book as one of her top Beach Reads. Trent is the first-ever author to sweep the four main categories at the Australian Book Industry Awards, Queensland Theatre and Brisbane Festival snared the theatre rights for a co-production of the stage show, which will premiere at the Brisbane Festival in September 2020. AND the book is also heading to the small screen with Australian actor Joel Edgerton (!) producing, and Trent executive producing for the international TV drama series. What a year it's been for Trent Dalton!
John Collee mentions the Australian obsession with scumbags and criminals often tends towards sensationalism, but Trent is an Australian author, like Tim Winton and Robert Drewe, who can lie in the gutter and still describe the stars. It's hard to explain to people from overseas about Australia, it's a hard country, its people are rough and crude, and Queenslanders are another breed altogether... I've heard Trent say that men are coming up to him, sharing their stories, and they share a hug together. This book truly has the power to unite people, especially men who usually don't read. It's a story about hard life, criminals and their abilities to redeem themselves.
I love the way journalists write books. Especially writers like Trent who know how to use words to shock, stun, shatter and suck you into the wonder of life, with his magical words and the universe within his pages. It's no wonder he's won so many awards as a journalist, and now as an author. I can't wait for the stage production and the TV series!
"Left me devastated but looking to the heavens." - Tim Rogers
"Trent Dalton has done something very special here, writing with grace, from his own broken heart." - Caroline Overington
"After reading Boy Swallows Universe I realise that his genius isn't really about writing so much; it's about hope, and his instinctive and infections "Yes" to one of the most plaguing questions of the human night: can tenderness survive brutality?" - Annabel Crabb
The story behind the novel
Why I Wrote Boy Swallows Universe
READ an excerpt from The Australian (paywall)
READ an excerpt "Houdini and me" from The Australian (paywall)
I'll leave the last words to Trent:
This book is for the never believers and the believers and the dreamers. This book is for anyone around the world who has been 13 years old. This book is for a generation of Australians who were promised by their parents they would be told all the answers as soon as they were old enough. Well, now you’re old enough.
Here are my answers:
- Every lost soul can be found again. Fates can be changed. Bad can become good.
- True love conquers all.
- There is a fine line between magic and madness and all should be encouraged in moderation.
- Australian suburbia is a dark and brutal place.
- Australian suburbia is a beautiful and magical place.
- Home is always the first and final poem.