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Boy Swallows Universe

Narrated by: Stig Wemyss
Length: 16 hrs and 42 mins
4.5 out of 5 stars (3,519 ratings)

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Editorial Reviews

Beloved performer Stig Wemyss voices the story of Eli, a young boy growing up in Brisbane in the early 1980s trying desperately to navigate a world of notorious criminals. Eli’s father is missing and his mother is imprisoned in the Boggo Road Gaol, leaving him and his mute brother August to fend for themselves with only a heroin-dealing stepfather and an infamous felon to watch over them. And if that weren’t enough, Eli is about to discover his first love. 

A gorgeous, gritty coming-of-age story, Boy Swallows Universe made big waves when it was released in 2019, earning 10 prestigious awards, including the 2019 Indie Book of Year and 2019 ABIA Audiobook of the Year. Celebrated journalist and author Trent Dalton drew on his own troubled youth to craft this incredible story, which is both hilarious and heartbreaking in equal measure. 

Publisher's Summary

"The best Australian novel I have read in more than a decade." (Sydney Morning Herald)

"Astonishing, captivating.... A wild, beautiful, heart-exploding ride" (Elizabeth Gilbert)

The bestselling novel that has taken Australia, and the world, by storm. Winner of Book of the Year at the 2019 Indie Book Awards, winner of a record four Australian Book Industry Awards in 2019, including the prestigious Book of the Year Award, and winner of the 2019 UTS Glenda Adams Award for New Writing, NSW Premier's Literary Awards

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 to follow his heart, learning what it takes to be a good man, but life just keeps throwing obstacles in the way - not least of which is Tytus Broz, legendary Brisbane drug dealer.

But Eli's life is about to get a whole lot more serious. He's about to fall in love. And, oh yeah, he has to break into Boggo Road Gaol on Christmas Day, to save his mum.

A story of brotherhood, true love, and the most unlikely of friendships, Boy Swallows Universe will be the most heartbreaking, joyous, and exhilarating novel you will read all year.

Awards:

  • 2019 ABIA Book of the Year Award, 
  • Winner 2019 Indie Book Award,
  • Winner 2019 UTS Glenda Adams Award for New Writing, 
  • NSW Premier's Literary Awards, 
  • Winner 2019 People's Choice Award, 
  • NSW Premier's Literary Awards, 
  • Winner MUD Literary Prize 2019, 
  • Winner 2019 ABIA Matt Richell Award for New Writer of the Year, 
  • Winner 2019 ABIA Literary Fiction Book of the Year, 
  • Winner 2019 ABIA Audiobook of the Year, 
  • Winner 2019 Miles Franklin Literary Award, 
  • Long listed 2019 Colin Roderick Award, shortlist

Reviews:

"Boy Swallows Universe is a wonderful surprise: sharp as a drawer full of knives in terms of subject matter; unrepentantly joyous in its child's-eye view of the world; the best literary debut in a month of Sundays. (The Australian)

"Boy Swallows Universe hypnotizes you with wonder, and then hammers you with heartbreak." (Washington Post)

"This thrilling novel." (New York Times Book Review)

"Marvelously plot-rich ... filled with beautifully lyric prose ...At one point Eli wonders if he is good. The answer is "yes," every bit as good as this exceptional novel." (Booklist)

"Dalton's splashy, stellar debut makes the typical coming-of-age novel look bland by comparison.... This is an outstanding debut." (Publisher's Weekly - starred review)

"Extraordinary and beautiful storytelling." (Guardian)

©2018 HarperCollins Publishers Australia pty Ltd (P)2018 HarperCollins Publishers Australia pty Ltd

Critic Reviews

"I couldn't stop reading from the moment I started, and I still can barely speak for the beauty of it. Trent Dalton has done something very special here, writing with grace, from his own broken heart." (Caroline Overington)

"Dalton's splashy, stellar debut makes the typical coming-of-age novel look bland by comparison.... This is an outstanding debut." (Publishers Weekly)

"One of the best Australian novels I've ever read." (The Guardian

What listeners say about Boy Swallows Universe

Average Customer Ratings
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Hard to press stop!

This was a wonderfully written and read. It brought Queensland in 80's to life. Highly recommend this title.

19 people found this helpful

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  • Al
  • 01-07-2018

Exceptional

I selected this book without much thought but can't recommend it highly enough. The performance by the reader was perfect too.

24 people found this helpful

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  • AV
  • 03-02-2019

what a brilliant book!

This is a long book, but a profound and complex story from the perspective of a boy growing up in the poorer parts of Brisbane. The reader has the perfect voice for this story, light and Australian without being too broad. And what insight this book provides - into life as a teenage boy, the drug world, the rough world of family violence and the triumph of love in all its various types and forms. If you want an insight into growing up hard in any part of Australia this is it, and further if you wanted a view on family life and making ends meet, passion and bravery this is it too. Almost impossible to turn off at the end as it moves towards the a conclusion worthy of any great novel.

10 people found this helpful

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Get it!

I was totally impressed with this book. The story was brilliant and well put together and the narrator was excellent. I was totally spellbound right from the start. Another book where life gets in the way of a great story. Looking forward to future books.

7 people found this helpful

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Love love love

What an incredible story! I loved it so much and I’m so sad it’s over! It reminded me of The Goldfinch ... but better. A must read. Enjoy!

5 people found this helpful

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Listen to it, you'll love it.

This has got to be the best audio book I've listened to. The narrator encapsulates the characters, era, location and demographics perfectly.

The story holds and grabs you throughout every bizarre turn in a hilarious roller coaster that is the life of Eli Bell.

5 people found this helpful

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Riveting

Such clever compelling writing. Well drawn characters that are endearing and terrifying in various measures throughout the book. The cycle of crime, mental illness, poverty and self destruction and redemption are all so beautifully bound together. I could not stop listening!

5 people found this helpful

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Great read but too long

This was a great listen. So well written however I think the author just laboured too much on over-descriptive text. It got a bit much as the book went on - too "colourful" at times (to quote the book). It took me about 10 chapters to fully get into it, then the bulk of the book was gripping, but then then the last 10 chapters or so really let the book down. Just too far-fetched and not in line with the main story in the rest of the book. For me the ending was disappointing and was in contrast to the high calibre of the rest of the story.

5 people found this helpful

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The Castle x Two Hands x Donnie Darko

A great Australian story with dark turns, gripping characters and lots of bright and funny moments. I was captivated from start to finish.

4 people found this helpful

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Not for me, sadly

I’m sure this book deserves all the accolades it has received but I found the audio and characters very difficult to warm to, the narrators tone and the books descriptive obscurities inhibited my ability to picture the characters and setting. It felt like a literary task rather than an enjoyable escape and I found myself avoiding it to listen to others. Perhaps a book better read by oneself.

17 people found this helpful

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  • Clemo
  • 14-10-2019

Slow to start but very intriguing...

Took a while to get interesting then it became hard to stop listening as the next drama unfolds. Delightful, encouraging, optimistic and hard to stop listening.

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  • Deborah McILROY
  • 31-05-2020

Lost in the world of Ely Bell

Trent Dalton’s magnificently crafted world of Ely Bell, where detail painted every scene of this gripping story. Sting Wemyss was perfect for all the characters of Ely’s universe. A story for lovers of detail, emotion, great characters in a well told story. My first audiobook and won’t be my last!

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  • sally ohare
  • 10-10-2019

Delightful

A well narrated tale about two quirky sons surrounded by dysfunctional adults. Witty and gritty the lead character is loveable and believeable. I was entertained the whole way through.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 28-07-2019

The reader destroyed this novel for me

In over 10 years of listening to audible novels, including many that have children as the protagonist, I have never had to listen to such an amateur reader. It was as though he never, for a moment, considered the character or the meaningful the story. So disappointing

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  • Amanda
  • 16-02-2019

Brilliant!

I wasn’t sure after the first few chapters but so glad I continued. The character development was incredible, heart-wrenching and brutally honest.
Book of the year for me as the narration was as brilliant as the story.

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  • Susan Myers
  • 04-01-2019

Brilliant!

I loved this book - an enthralling story written with wit and style. And with the added bonus of one of the best narrations I’ve heard on Audible. Stig’s accents and intonations of the different voices were perfect.

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  • marlene
  • 12-11-2018

Most devastatingly heart wrenching story ever.

This has to be the most devastating and beautiful story I've ever heard. It had me cheeringcheckout loud and it had me sobbing my heart out. I loved it entirely.

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  • J
  • 12-09-2018

Entertaining but needs an editor

Dalton’s use of metaphor was excellent at times, stretched at others. I can wear that, and I get that he’s aiming at an Australian audience, hence the many references to so many Australian consumer products. I did feel though that the manuscript needed a good edit. (‘he said inquiringly, she said cautiously....etc.). There was also a fair bit of repetition, there are only so many ways to say the same thing. I made it almost halfway before the authors use of adverbs drove me nuts and I couldn’t go on. Plenty of gems in this book, overall 2 stars.

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  • eddie laverty
  • 15-08-2019

Dull, dreary and unimaginative.

Hard to wade through, written in a dry style that didn't encourage engagement, this book offered nothing new and nothing to truly capture the imagination; it has the feel of young adult fiction, poorly executed.