My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent
‘You think you’re invincible. You think you won’t ever miss. We need to put the fear on you. You need to surrender yourself to death before you ever begin, and accept your life as a state of grace, and then and only then will you be good enough.’
At 14, Turtle Alveston knows the use of every gun on her wall;
That chaos is coming and only the strong will survive it;
That her daddy loves her more than anything else in this world.
And he’ll do whatever it takes to keep her with him.
She doesn’t know why she feels so different from the other girls at school;
Why the line between love and pain can be so hard to see;
Why making a friend may be the bravest and most terrifying thing she has ever done
And what her daddy will do when he finds out …
Sometimes strength is not the same as courage.
Sometimes leaving is not the only way to escape.
Sometimes surviving isn’t enough.
You won’t meet many protagonists quite like Turtle Alveston. What makes Turtle so unique, is what draws you in and won’t let go. I became fascinated with seeing how life worked out for this young woman. Yet at times her story haunted me, with its darkness. It is definitely not for the faint of heart….
Julia Alveston aka Turtle is 14yrs old. She is struggling at school and has a twisted relationship with her father. They live in the rural isolation of Slaughterhouse Creek. Turtle is both socially and emotionally isolated. When I heard her internal dialogue, I was not only shocked. But I wanted to reach out to her and protect her, where others have failed to do so. Her teacher and grandfather are aware that things are not as they should be at home. But both feel that without confirmation there is little that can be done.
‘Misogyny, isolation, watchfulness. These are three big red flags’ Anna – Turtle’s teacher.
“Goddamn it Martin, this is no way to raise a little girl” – Grandpa
What follows is a novel that is vague, yet descriptive and subtle yet heart-breaking. The isolation, survival strategies and fear of Turtle’s father Martin, take over. It is obvious he claims ownership of Turtle and it becomes a battle of wills.
As one young girl is desperate to retain control of her most valued possession, her mind!
‘Her mind cannot be taken by force’
The rural setting really adds to the scene of this broken family and Turtle’s father’s obsession with the ‘end of the world’. Whilst he shows concern for the outer world and their ignorance. He doesn’t take responsibility for how his own attitudes and values, undermine Turtle’s basic emotional fundamentals. There is often a simmering silence in the house and you feel on edge as you turn the page. Wondering what shocking abuse, you will be forced to bear witness to next.
‘He is a big silent presence beside her’
But things begin to change one day for Turtle, when she stumbles across two young boys lost in the woods. Brett and Jacob show Turtle a world that is previously unknown to her. They show her what it is to be a typical teenager about the small town they live in. She is as drawn to them, as they are to her. With Jacob being her intellectual equal, we see in Turtle’s beliefs. Her internal thoughts on women are challenged, and she finally has the opportunity to question if this is how she wants to live.
‘This is me. This is who I am, and this is where I live’ – Turtle
When Turtle’s father discovers her meetings with Jacob, he is furious. You get the sense he feels a slip, in his control over his daughter. He berates her using the term ‘you are mine’ and the violence, ownership and threats continue. There’s a moment in the novel where Turtle goes to sleep thinking of her father’s hatred of her. This moved me to tears and I thought, what could be more painful to a girl with no mother….
Sometimes it takes getting lost to be saved!
I’ve struggled to put my words together to compose my review. It took several days to actually process, what I had just read. A psychologist would have a field day with Turtle. But that’s not the intention of this novel, the idea is to see things through the eyes of Turtle Alveston. They are heavy, painful and weary eyes. But they are worthy, nonetheless.
A dark, painful and haunting literary novel 4.5*