Published On: Fri, Sep 8th, 2017

My Absolute Darling review: Powerful, violent, savage and quite brilliant

MY ABSOLUTE DARLING by Gabriel Tallent Fourth Estate, £12.99 

Her mother died when she was tiny so her father is all she has ever known. “You are mine,” he tells her repeatedly. “I will never, ever let you go.” 

They live in a world entirely defined and created by Martin’s world view. He shuns outsiders and believes a violent breakdown of society is in the offing. He subscribes to a vague survivalist manifesto and has brought Turtle up “hard”.

She learned how to shoot when she was six, hunts their food and at night roams for miles barefoot along the inhospitable coastline. 

Martin is truly nightmarish, a charismatic and violent abuser who justifies his behaviour with tabletop philosophising. “Some people think pain is the solution to solipsism,” he muses after one particularly gruesome assault. 

Turtle’s life has always revolved around Martin but as she gets older it’s becoming harder for him to stop the outside world getting in. She shuns help from a wellmeaning teacher and her peers, so deeply entrenched in her father’s world that she is terrified of being separated from him.

But she also feels trapped, torn between her intense love for Martin and the gradual realisation that their relationship – and her father – could kill her. “There is a part of Turtle that she keeps shut up and private… her mind cannot be taken by force, she is a person like him but she is not him, nor is she just part of him.” 

Everything changes when she meets 15-year-old Jacob who introduces her to a different way of life, setting in motion a chain of events that threatens to destroy everything that Martin has worked towards. Turtle’s world begins to open up and she sees for the first time the possibility of a life outside her current existence.

But Martin is determined to do anything to keep her with him and the stage is set for an explosive and violent conclusion. My Absolute Darling has arrived from the US on a wave of adulation with horror maestro Stephen King declaring it “a masterpiece”. And the praise for this extraordinary debut is entirely justified. This is a compelling and unsettling novel that sucks you into its darkly warped world and doesn’t let go until the last page.

Tallent’s writing is intense and lyrical, especially in his lush descriptions of the natural world that surrounds Turtle and her father. At the centre of it all is the pair’s broken, conflicted and brutal relationship. The author is unsparing in his graphic depiction of rape and abuse and there are unflinching scenes of violence and terror.

However although harrowing they never feel gratuitous. My Absolute Darling is haunting and challenging but it is also like nothing else you will read this year: powerful, violent, savage and quite brilliant. 

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