"My absolute darling. My absolute, absolute darling." By the end of this novel, you will find no phrase more chilling. I consumed this book in two days, taking no time to savour the wonderful writing and rich characters. The story was too urgent. And when I finished at midnight a few nights ago, I was shattered.
My Absolute Darling tells the story of Turtle, a 14 year old girl who lives alone with her sadistic doomsday-prepper father. His unrelenting abuse and obsession with teaching her how to fight for her life in the wild has made her tough, seemingly misogynistic and almost unfeeling. However, when a new friend meets her, it challenges her learnt hardness and makes her strive for something more.
Obviously the book has been compared to a Little Life, a title it earns through some pretty harrowing depictions of abuse. This comparison is important to address, because there are so many people dealing with post-A Little Life PTSD. Yes, in some ways the abuse is as visceral, as shocking, but there are only a few of these scenes peppered throughout the book. Instead, Gabriel Talent achieves a sense of horror and suffocation in the little ways her father oppresses her. In a hauntingly repetitive motif, he insists on walking her right up to the school bus every day, even when she says no.
That being said, there are some sexual abuse scenes that are quite distressing. Turtle's relationship with her father is complicated - she has been beaten down into complicity and isn't certain of what is right or wrong. This ambivalence is difficult to process on paper without some accusing the author of trying to make the scenes titillating. It is difficult but important to read. So often, characters in novels that experience sexual trauma are written off as dazed and mute, but there is a whole realm of unscripted reactions to sexual abuse that need to be explored in order for people to effectively engage with survivors without judgement in the real world.
Talent dilutes the terror in the novel with touching, sweet interactions with her new friends and has a wonderful knack for teen dialogue. This was such a refreshing diversion in a literary novel, which, in its lightness, adds a surprising depth of hope. Yes, My Absolute Darling is sometimes hard to read, but it doesn't hurt. This is probably because Turtle is such a fierce, no-nonsense female character.
This is one of favourite books of the year, one with an atmosphere that will linger in my heart from months to come. If you read it, please let me know what you think! You can buy it on Amazon Kindle below.