Thursday, 26 October 2017

My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent

Powerful, brilliant and shocking, this is one of those books that stay with you long after you finish it.

‘My absolute darling’ is what domineering and deeply flawed Martin Alveston calls his 14 year old daughter Turtle; whom he has brought up alone since the death of his wife.
Martin is a hard man; teaching his daughter how to use a gun with skill, fend for herself in their dilapidated home and run wild in the beautiful wilderness of the Northern Californian coast. He is convinced the world will end soon and mostly shuts himself off from modern life.

However we experience the world through Turtle’s narrative. She struggles at school, shuns people her own age, and surreptitiously visits her alcoholic grandfather (who is estranged from her father).
Turtle’s life changes when she helps two clever and playful High School students Jacob and Brett, who are lost in bad weather in the forest. This friendship opens her eyes to how other people live and she begins to question her father’s authority.

The flora, fauna and landscapes in My Absolute Darling are lovingly and beautifully described; enough for me to look up images online of the Mendocino Coast with it’s verdant forests and rocky coastline.

This is Gabriel Tallent’s first novel. He grew up near the Mendocino coast and spent eight years writing My Absolute Darling. He began writing while in his final year of University, homesick for his ‘free range’ childhood in the wilderness.

A warning: graphic abuse is depicted in this novel; and I admit to putting the book down for a couple of weeks thinking it was not for me. I am glad I picked it up again; it is unforgettable and ultimately a novel of coming of age and rising above adversity, mixed with elements of a gripping thriller. Turtle’s character in particular is mesmerising; vulnerable yet tough, you just so want her to succeed and thrive. My Absolute Darling reminds me of a rural version of the award-winning A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara; which was one of my favourite reads from last year.

Reviewed by Katrina

Catalogue link:  My Absolute Darling

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