My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent

Terrifying and masterful: My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent

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My Absolute Darling is a dark and unputdownable novel about a terrifying situation and mindset forced onto a teenage girl and her battle to escape this life she is so used to. Turtle is a fourteen-year-old who lives with her father in a house filled with guns and supplies for the apocalypse he believes will be inevitable. He tells her how much he loves her, but she has never known a friend and is trapped by his creed and rules. The time comes for Turtle to fight to survive and to learn to escape from all she has ever known.

Tallent writes with a distinctively detailed style that carefully captures the ordered world in which Turtle lives and depicts her unnerving mindset as someone who has grown up knowing love and pain deeply entwined. She is a compelling character: heartbreaking in her internalised hatred and her difficulty relating to anyone, clearly intelligent and adaptable, and hard to forget once the book is put down. The narrative unfolds with tension, closely focusing on an event or occasion then jumping forward in a tightly paced manner.

The paranoia of her monstrous father is contrasted with the hippy attitudes of other locals, showing the difference between a distrust of The Man and an all-consuming belief in protecting someone who is actually being deeply scarred in those attempts. Apart from a few references by other characters, it is easy to forget the modern setting of the novel, which both gives it a timeless feel and shows Turtle’s disconnect from the world. Altogether, the writing style and seeing it all from Turtle’s perspective makes the reader feel unnerved and trapped, really getting across the horror of what is going on despite it not being described in a hysterical way.

To read the novel is to be horrified at times and to wish it was possible to reach into the narrative and make things better, in a similar way to books like Yanagihara’s A Little Life. Tallent creates a paranoid and abusive world that can be difficult to read at times, but also can be uplifting and gives a voice to a character who so often keeps to virtual silence.