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Book review: My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent

I had been warned that My Absolute Darling was a harrowing read, but I’m still not sure that I was ready for the violence and abuse that was part of the life of the young girl at the centre of this novel.

‘Turtle’ lived with her aggressive, troubled and insecure father after the death of her mother, surrounded by guns and beer. It was a punishing mix for 14-year-old Turtle as she navigated her school life amid the disorder of her home life.

One of the striking elements of the novel was the deep love between the father, Martin, and his daughter; a love which all-too-often veered towards fear and hate in their instable little universe.

While initially, Turtle’s grandfather had offered some sense of protection, after his death, it was clear that Turtle and Martin were completely alone, isolated from normality.

When outsiders start to enter their world and Turtle starts to comprehend a different way of living, Martin senses danger and readies for battle.

This was a striking, troubling, moving novel examining love and possession. However, for me, it didn’t quite reach the excellence of The Choke by Sofie Laguna, which was another harrowing read about an isolated girl being brought up in abuse and disadvantage.

Perhaps the Australian setting was more convincing for me than the ramshackle house where there were more guns than coffee mugs and where Turtle broke a raw egg into her mouth for breakfast.

The awfulness seemed so extreme in the American novel that I had trouble believing it. In The Choke, there was certainly awfulness, but it was thrown into relief by the beauty of the Australian landscape and the Murray River. Turtle enjoyed no such relief.

Photo courtesy of Pixabay.

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