Listening to Stig Wemyss narrate is like indulging in a full-cast audio play. He is extraordinary to hear, able to create unique characters that reflect tone, voice, age, accent and gender.
In Boy Swallows Universe, we already have a story that is being hailed as Australia’s next great novel, and when it’s brought to life so vividly and expertly by one of Australia’s great narrators, you have a sure-fire winner.
The book is a semi-autobiographical account of author Trent Dalton’s youth, centring around 10-year-old Eli Bell, growing up in the seedier side of Brisbane, circa 1983. He lives with his drug-addicted mother and step-father, the former who is soon to be imprisoned. His older brother, August, is purposefully silent, his babysitter was a convicted murderer, and his best friends are the real-life escapologist and “Houdini of Boggo Road”, Slim Halliday, and a pen-pal he’s made with a hardened prisoner still serving time.
It sounds dismal, but in the eyes of a child, happiness, imagination and wonder have a way of creeping in, making Boy Swallows Universe a surprisingly positive story. Dalton’s poetic prose lifts Eli’s life from the slums into a curious and often entertaining world and his characters display deep affection in their own ways. Events which should be horrific, are not, for example when Eli, lacking any positive role models in his life, is taken under the wing of a hardened drug dealer. Yes, there are darker elements to that relationship, but it also provides a human connection that he has been lacking.
These are the formative years of Eli’s life and yet he moves through them with a sense of romance and an instinctive appreciation of life.
Dalton is a multi-award-winning journalist and Wemyss has had a long and impressive career as an audiobook narrator since his days on the Col’n Carpenter television sitcom. It’s a perfect match. While Dalton’s novel may deserve the accolades it’s receiving internationally, so too, should this stellar audiobook of his work.
The audiobook of Boy Swallows Universe was released in June 2018 by Bolinda Audio on standard CD or MP3 CD for $39.95 each, and is also available digitally through Audible.com.au. The unabridged recording runs approximately 16 hours and 42 minutes.
Reviewed by Rod Lewis
Rating out of 10: 10