Review: My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent

my absolute darling.pngThe Premise: (from NetGalley)
At 14, Turtle Alveston knows the use of every gun on her wall;
That chaos is coming and only the strong will survive it;
That her daddy loves her more than anything else in this world.
And he’ll do whatever it takes to keep her with him.

She doesn’t know why she feels so different from the other girls at school;
Why the line between love and pain can be so hard to see;
Why making a friend may be the bravest and most terrifying thing she has ever done
And what her daddy will do when he finds out …

Sometimes strength is not the same as courage.
Sometimes leaving is not the only way to escape.
Sometimes surviving isn’t enough.

Thoughts: If good literature is writing that can shock and alarm the reader long after it’s been read, then My Absolute Darling is really bloody good literature. I was disturbed and discomforted by it from the beginning, with Turtle’s relationship with her terrifying father outlined in no uncertain terms from the outset. I found everything about Martin horrifying and upsetting; while the violence and, particularly, the language is gratuitous at times, it all serves to ensure the reader is completely focused on willing Turtle to escape. And, good grief, did I want Turtle to escape. Midway through the book, I felt like I’d actually forgotten she was a fictional character, such was the depth of my emotional involvement.

When she does, fleetingly, manage to evade her father, she encounters two slightly older boys, who represent an entirely different tone to what has been established in the claustrophobic early sections of the novel. I’m not sure any high school boy ever talked the way these two do, but I loved their pseudo-intellectual banter and Turtle’s flabbergasted response to them. It added much-needed comic relief in an otherwise bleak atmosphere, and was an effective way of showing the vast different between Turtle’s reality and theirs.

The sense of danger and abject fear increases later on, culminating in a return to the claustrophobic terror of the beginning; it’s just one aspect of the novel’s genius. Turtle becomes a more compelling character as the novel goes on; she’s a really memorable figure.

In Conclusion: My Absolute Darling is a knock-out read; I found it difficult to go on at times, such is the level of trauma inflicted, but it’s an extraordinarily effective book that produces an immense impact. It might not be to everyone’s tastes, primarily because of the harshness of the content and language; I’ve seen it compared to A Little Life, which I haven’t read, but I know that book disturbed some people so a warning is probably needed. My Absolute Darling is a visceral and powerful book on its own terms, however, and one which I’m unlikely to forget in a hurry.

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