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Every book begins with a little trust between both author and reader, a dance per se where the author leads and the reader follows. There is generally one passage, one scene, or some dialogue that l search for to know the author is leading well. Sometimes it’s a quiet revelation, and others it’s glaringly obvious. The latter is true for this novel. In My Absolute Darling, Tallent writes a 14 year old female abuse victim like he’s been one personally which is the idea for any writer, I’ve just rarely seen it done this well. He writes abuse not in a way we want to read it but in the way we need to. It’s a very honest portrayal centered around the main character Turtle and her relationship with her abusive father. Everything stems from them, her dialogue, her interactions with females, and her sometimes frustrating actions.
Martin is an intelligent, handsome, and charismatic man that lives with the ideals that the world is ending soon and he brings up his 14 year old daughter in isolation that rests solely on this. Her world is small, limited to their small cabin, attached to no one but her father and grandfather. Everything changes when she meets Jacob, a young teen boy, she suddenly becomes infatuated with. Throughout the story we watch as her world that her father has constructed becomes threatened and the consequences it brings upon them all.
The prose is evocative but if you find yourself sometimes exhausted by the constant description, I understand. There were times I felt myself skimming some passages and I do believe it could’ve been edited more; however, Tallent weaves so much detail and writes it in such a rhythm that it knits a picture together so completely, you can’t put the book down.
Turtle. There is so much depth to this character. I have never fallen in love with a character or been more affected by one ever. She is strong, smart, self-deprecating, hateful, loving, and every other nuanced description that existed because she’s a young girl who has been wrongly treated as a woman, trained to endure and know things she shouldn’t. I know there are quite a few people put off by her description of the rape scenes and the way in which she describes her body, using vulgar words such as pussy but I find it fitting. Throughout the entire book, her dialogue is heavily influenced by her father and his mysoginistic attitude. It doesn’t shock me that she refers to her body in ways he would, the same she refers to herself with hateful names (illiterate slit, little bitch), along with the way she refers to other woman and girls (slut, you bitch, sugar tits) as well. She is also only 14. You have to remember that with every scene you find yourself perplexed by her. There are minor details to remind you, promotion, high school registration, lack of menstrual period. They are scattered, forcing you to reign yourself in most of the time, re-examining scenes with her age and environment in mind. The way in which Tallent writes Turtle, her self-deprecating comments, the way she battles herself through out is stunning. It solidifies him as one of the most intelligent, aware, and talented writers I have read. I hate to bring gender into this but I am shocked Tallent, a male author, was able to write such a visceral character such as Turtle, a young teenage girl, especially because I found his teenage male characters to be lacking.
I liked the idea of Jacob and Brett and what they represented however, I found their interactions and dialogue unbelievable.
“Her intelligence cannot be abstracted from her personality, whereas her blindness is incidental to who she is, and can be abstracted.”
“Okay, so: To the Lighthouse. Or-you know what?–people die in subordinate clauses in that book. Maybe D.H Lawrence? For a passionate, make-love-to-the-gamekeeper kind of high.”
I don’t think that I’m wrong in saying that most 15 year old boys do not talk this way. I wish they did, trust me. The authors and novels that these boys throw out are also surprising to me. Sometimes, I feel authors will use their characters as sources of their own intelligence and ideals which reads as pretentious. Personally, I found Brett and Jacob to be facets of Tallent’s ego rather than their own fully realized characters. There were quite a few characters that felt unresolved as well, thrown in without any real purpose.
None of this should deter you from this novel. It doesn’t take away from the message or Turtle’s journey. The ending is beautiful and the clear feminist undertones of this novel deserve to be read over and over again. I can’t wait to read Gabriel Tallent’s coming novels and the ones after that for years to come. Click the image below if you’re interested in purchasing.