Boys To Men – Boy Swallows Universe Review Part Two and more.
So the last time I wrote about Trent Dalton’s acclaimed [and now scheduled for international release] new book, Boy Swallows Universe, I was 162 pages in and was wondering whether it was really the next big thing in Australian literature like quite a few have been saying.
At that point I was in agreement. The first 162 pages were totally absorbing, full of action and emotion and with two brothers as protagonists. Two brothers linked by tough circumstances, crime, love and some eccentric personal traits.
Now I am 360 pages in and I have to say I have been on a bit of a rollercoaster ride with the book. What is fantastic and consistent through the book is the quality of the descriptions of the suburbs and the circumstances. There is bleakness but humour and weirdly a strong sense of love in the self-destructive behaviour, the violence and the hopelessness. The key characters feel right and the dialogue works.
But we are in the middle of the book and the big set pieces are now coming thick and fast and it is here that I struggled a bit. The book crosses genres between an almost true crime story with a hero seeking revenge on injustices and another that is more about a journey of self-development and awareness.
When it works and mostly it does it is a cracking good read. Eli and Gus’s time with their dad and Eli’s meeting with the journalist are good but the Christmas day action I struggled with. I just found sometimes found myself wanting far more of the gritty, action revenge story than the journey of discovery one.
In the end there are almost two books here and I am beginning to wonder whether from here to the conclusion Mr Dalton will pull this off. Lets see how I feel at the end.
It seems to be my season for stories of boys becoming men. Just watched the movie version of Breath, the excellent Tim Winton book. A story of two boys growing up in coastal WA, learning to surf and coping with family issues and questions of bravery, boundaries and loyalty. It’s a rare movie that can capture any good book’s full power and narrative but I think Simon Baker, director and adult star maybe didn’t try hard enough. As a story about surfing it is one of those that get’s the restless addiction and the spirituality of the pastime just right, the surfing is beautifully shot in a way for the general audience not just for surfers, the music is great and WA looks beautiful and moody.
Also the acting is generally good with the self-destructive wild boy Loonie the best, but when it gets down to the emotive forces driving the action the movie squibs. There are not enough details about Loonie’s crap home life, Eva’s mental and physical pain, Pikelet’s restlessness and Sando’s carelessness. I know the movie would never get this all in but it hints at things that are in the book but they are never followed up and at the end Sando and Eva just disappear. Most movies now days are too long but this one is almost too short or maybe just a little scared of some of the source material. It’s a good try and not a waste of time but if you want to get the full punch read the book.
Linkletter’s fantastic Boyhood remains THE movie on this subject. If you haven’t watched it you are missing out on one of the best films of the last ten years.
Six songs about boys capturing six of the typical teenage boy behaviours here. Kicking arse, smartarse, horny, hanging around, inconsiderate and lovestruck.
Thin Lizzy’s guitar singalong of course – “The Boys Are Back In Town”
Australian Crawl’s sarcastic oh so Aussie 80s “The Boys Light Up”
The Waitresses spot on commentary “I Know What Boys Like”
Lee Kernaghan’s Aussie country “no sense of irony here” anthem – “Boys From The Bush”
Beyonce’s brilliant ballad “If I Were A Boy”
Don Henley’s shiny, wistful “Boys Of Summer”