My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent

The Blurb On The Back:

Sometimes strength is not the same as courage.

Sometimes leaving is not the only way to escape.

Sometimes surviving isn’t 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 …

The Review (Cut For Spoilers):

14-year-old Julia “Turtle” Alveston lives with her dad and her granddad in the remote woods of Mendocino, California. Her dad, Martin, sees what’s happening to the world – the environmental disaster to come – and has raised Turtle to survive the disaster, teaching her practical skills and more importantly, how to strip and shoot a variety of guns. This is partly why she doesn’t feel the same as the other girls at Middle School – she doesn’t understand their shiny hair or their shallow concerns but it’s also because she knows that her dad loves her more than anything else in the world and that he’d rather kill her than let her go.

So when she saves Jacob and Brett when they get lost hiking in the woods, she knows that it marks an important step in her relationship with her father. But she doesn’t know what it will unleash when her father eventually finds out …

Gabriel Tallent’s debut literary thriller is a gripping and deeply disturbing character study of a young girl abused emotionally, mentally and sexually by her intelligent, sociopathic father that’s as much about the failure of those around her to help as her own survival but there were parts of the book where Tallent overwrites to the point of making Turtle unbelievable and the ending is overblown, which is a shame as this is otherwise an excellent debut.

Turtle is in many ways a great character – devoted to her father even as she recognises deep down that what he does to her is wrong – she’s got strong survival skills and is thoughtful and intelligent even though her school work does not reflect that. (It was her failure in school vocabulary tests that made Tallent’s overwriting stand out for me, particularly when he writes from her point of view using complex language when she has already shown that she has no facility for such words). Her father infects her thinking – the misogyny she displays towards her classmates and teacher, Anna, is genuinely disturbing – as are the rape scenes, which made me feel very uncomfortable.

Martin is a charming sociopath skilled at hiding his flaws from those around him to the point that even when Turtle outright asks for help, his friends are too disbelieving – and too scared – to do so. The book comes alive in his scenes with Turtle, which ooze with menace and tension and contrast with her scenes with Turtle’s grandfather, which is closer to a genuinely loving relationship. In fact, given what Martin says about his father, I wanted to see more of the danger and violence in his background (although the ambiguity also adds to Martin’s sociopathy).

The story is a little predictable and it gets overblown towards the end when Martin brings a new girl to his home. Although I enjoyed the twisted rivalry that it creates with Turtle, the events that unfold weren’t quite believable – especially the finale, which I found a little ridiculous. All this said though, this is a strong debut that deserves the acclaim it’s received and I look forward to reading what Tallent does next.

MY ABSOLUTE DARLING was released in the United Kingdom on 29th August 2017. Thanks to the Amazon Vine Programme for the ARC of this book.

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