Gabriel Tallent: My Absolute Darling
Published By: Fourth Estate
Buy it here
What the Blurb Says:
‘You think you’re invincible. You think you won’t ever miss. We need to put the fear on you. You need to surrender yourself to death before you ever begin, and accept your life as a state of grace, and then and only then will you be good enough.’
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.
What I say:
I picked up My Absolute Darling on one of those ‘Why the Hell not?’ days, where you are suffering from being overwhelmed by the previous book you read (see my post on Tin Man and you will understand why). I looked at so many different books and put them back down again- I couldn’t decide on anything and just got more and more frustrated with every title I looked at.
So, then I saw My Absolute Darling, loved the cover, read the blurb and put it back down. I honestly did, because I thought that it was too much, that I really am trying to push myself out of my usual book shop choices, but that I couldn’t face something that potentially could be so upsetting.
Then I thought, do you know what, what is the worst that could happen? I don’t love it, I put it down and choose something else – which is of course my whole reading philosophy, hence the blog!
I knew from reading the first few pages that this would be a book that would require all my concentration, the language is beautiful, but there is a lot of description and a lot of scenes where philosophy and complex issues come into play. I usually do my blog by reading a bit and writing about what I have read, and thinking about what I am getting out of it. I felt that whatever I wrote about this book would not do it justice, that it is so big, so compelling and for me, too difficult to adequately review. What I have written is just my thoughts, as oppose to my usual in-depth blog post.
The story of Turtle Alveston and the relationship with her father Martin is extremely brutal, and it is not by any means an easy read. This is made even more difficult by the deep love that Turtle feels for her father. Martin does not want anyone else to have Turtle, hence the title of the book. For me, some of the most distressing scenes come from their twisted and co-dependent relationship. Martin possesses Turtle so completely, that all she knows and wants is her father. He has ensured she has all the survival skills she could need, and their solitary and survivalist existence is based on isolation, secrecy and fear of the outside world. Martin has no intention of letting Turtle be anything other than there for him.
When she meets Jacob and Brett in the woods one day, realising that they are lost and at risk, she helps rescue them, and is drawn into their world. Martin leaves after a particularly violent incident, and she is free for the first time to be the 14 year old she so desperately wants to be. Jacob and Turtle grow closer, and when Martin finally returns, Turtle realises that Jacob is in grave danger from Martin and that to save him, she has to stop all contact with him. Having tasted life away from the possessive grip of Martin’s tyranny, Turtle starts to question everything she has taken for granted.
Martin senses the change in his daughter and becomes even more driven in his desire to ensure that Turtle is his possession and his alone. For me, Martin takes an even more sinister turn, when it transpires he has picked up a 10-year-old girl called Cheyenne, allegedly saving her from someone who was going to do her harm.
Turtle realises that as she is growing up, Cheyenne will be his next target. Although she is reluctant to allow herself to feel anything, to allow anyone in, she takes the decision after a particularly brutal attack to get herself and Cheyenne away from Martin for good.
Martin comes after them and hunts them down to Jacob’s house. To say any more will spoil the ending, but there are not many books I have read where my heart was beating fast as I tried to read as fast as I could without missing anything. Seriously, it is that tense.
For me, this quote sums up Turtle, her resilience, and the whole essence of the book.
“She sits looking out at the beach, and she thinks, I want to survive this”.
My Absolute Darling will not be for everyone. It is tough, heart breaking, and at times genuinely upsetting. A couple of times I had to put the book down and give myself some time away from it. However, it is so breathtakingly good, written with precision and clarity. From the first time you meet her, Turtle will get under your skin and you will hope that she will finally find the courage and conviction to believe that the life she deserves is within her reach.