This book quickly worked its way into my best reads of 2017, it’s got everything I love; twisted dark family dynamics, a compelling story, well paced and beautiful writing.
My Absolute Darling follows Turtle a young teenage girl living with her daddy, the man whom she both adores and hates (with good reason). She understands that she’s the thing he loves most in the world. She is petrified by his presence yet she craves his attention, perhaps because it’s all she has. He’s taught her how to use all the guns in their sparse and ‘rough and ready’ home, all the better to face the impending doom facing society. Change is coming however, Turtle is about to connect with people outside the family and make friends…
I really love how Tallent has written this novel, the coarseness of the language used by Turtle and her father was the ideal contrast to the beautiful lyrical descriptions of the environment in which they live. It is such a powerful way of dragging you into the story, you really get a feel for the harshness of the world that surrounds Turtle. The world she inhabits with her daddy is dilapidated and sparse, militaristic, strict and distinctly lacking in home comforts, while the area in which she lives is filled with luscious plant life and beautiful land and seascapes, both rugged and beautiful.
It’s little wonder that Turtle is fascinated by the flowery language that her friends wax lyrical, they care about things like literature and movies, things that Turtle hadn’t even considered to matter before making their acquaintance. She likes to look after objects, but the moment her daddy feels she likes something more than he thinks she should, he sets about to destroy it, and her, wholly.
There are scenes of base depravity and horrific abuse in this book, but it doesn’t reduce Turtle to a one note victim, she is a complex character with conflicting and confusing emotions. She only knows this life, but is smart enough to know it’s not a regular upbringing, she doesn’t know how to feel about it and she struggles to hide it from those around her. She’s fiercely loyal to her daddy and her grandfather, and you see how dysfunctional families can still function somewhat normally. You really feel like you’re there with her, struggling to know yourself and your feelings; bouncing between self hatred and internalised sexism, between being the bully and being the hero. Simultaneously you’ll be absolutely disgusted and angered by the events that unfold and root with all your heart for Turtle.
I felt like this book looked at how misogyny can corrupt and twist a person into a hateful husk of a human. Within the first few chapters you see how much hostility there is towards not only women but any outsider and how this has shrunk the world around Turtle. This atmosphere of distrust puts you constantly on edge, there’s a permeating feeling of unease and you can feel an unspoken threat hanging over you throughout your reading.
The uneasy feeling only helps to heighten the tension that the constant presence of guns and weapons creates. It feels to me that the gun culture in America fetishises not only the guns themselves, but the power that wielding a gun gives you. The fact that guns are so freely and readily obtained by someone who readily admits to being a survivalist with a strong distrust for society should have sent alarms bells ringing in some quarters, but not so in this novel. This approach appears to be par for the course in some parts of the states, and maybe this book in its own way is saying we should question why this is so.
There are of course some small criticisms, in places Tallent can be overly descriptive to the detraction of the story itself, and some of the support characters are very two dimensional. The friends she makes are too perfect, their prose too polished and their personalities very vaguely fleshed out. The teacher is the worst character in my opinion, she’s just simply good, sporty and concerned, I couldn’t connect to her at all because there wasn’t much to connect to. The only other criticism I can level is that the final scenes were highly dramatic but a bit drawn out, I felt like in places it was written more for cinematographic effect than to further the story.
However I loved the actual ending, you leave on an unresolved and unsettled note. wanting to know more, which isn’t a bad way to leave a book at all!