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HomePageTurnerAfterwordGabriel Tallent’s ‘My Absolute Darling’ is a deliciously dark and heartrending novel

Gabriel Tallent’s ‘My Absolute Darling’ is a deliciously dark and heartrending novel

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Tallent’s debut novel about a child growing up in isolation and then finding herself keeps the reader within its pages days after putting it down. 

At one point in ‘My Absolute Darling’, a boy named Jacob drives up to protagonist Turtle Alveston’s house, playing ‘Psychotic Girl’ by The Black Keys on his car stereo. If there’s one song that accurately sums up the vibe of Gabriel Tallent’s phenomenal debut novel, it is this one.

Turtle Alveston is not psychotic. But the world she belongs to can be described as such: it is dusty, lonely, and dangerous. At 14, she is fiercely independent, and at the same time, inextricably dependent on her abusive father. Martin Alveston is the typical gun-toting, intelligent anti-hero, deeply distrustful of the world he and his daughter live in. So he takes it upon himself to ensure they lead their lives in complete isolation, with as little outside influence as possible.

Turtle’s understanding of herself grows with the reader’s, and inspires an odd investment in her life. The best word to describe her is ‘wild’, but neither wild nor any of its synonyms do her justice. She spends extended periods of time alone, and internalises her father’s deep misogyny, keeping her distance from the people of her town. When she first makes friends (like Jacob), however, she realises how her father has shackled her. Her meeting Jacob is what triggers the insane happenings in this novel, which escalates quickly from a bildungsroman to a dark, literary thriller.

As the novel progresses, Turtle’s resilience is what shines through. Her ability to withstand and survive anything and everything that comes her way – both physically and mentally – is painfully breathtaking.

Her surroundings and the setting of the novel are the driving force behind it. Tallent uses nature as a literary trope in a masterful way, with the natural world assuming a character of its own. The novel is set in a fascinating part of the United States, at the confluence of both sea and forest. Tallent uses his control over language to spin a complex web that truly transports the reader to this setting.

Seriously, though, keep a dictionary at hand. Tallent’s verbosity, and understanding of biology, sucks one deeper into the unknown, and you’ll have to Google your way out.

Describing ‘My Absolute Darling’ as a thriller is apt, but simplistic. The novel experiments with deeper philosophies, dedicating pages to internal monologues and solipsistic crises.

As Turtle begins to inhabit the strange intersection between the outside world and the one of her own, she is pushed to truly understand herself in a way that no young person should have to. But then again, Turtle is no typical young person. It is in these moments that her innocence disarms the reader, because her unconventional, rough life is so removed from any kind of soft emotion.

My Absolute Darling’ is intense, spirited, and beautiful. It is unnerving and heartrending in equal parts. It’s the kind of novel that keeps you within its pages days after you put it down. And that’s the best kind of novel.

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