...[a] brutal, brilliant debut ... Tallent is an amazing writer. His prose is expansive and ornate, wild and bold. Much of it is spent describing the beautiful, dense, dangerous landscape and seascape that both imperil and shelter Turtle. Nature is as powerful a force as it is in a Jack London novel — mighty, beautiful and indifferent to human fortunes. Reading this book is like watching an electrical storm, both beautiful and dangerous. Works of fiction about child abuse, such as this book, Emma Donoghue’s Room, Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life and several works by Joyce Carol Oates, can be excruciatingly hard on a reader, even when they are admirable as literature. A story about that subject had better have something more to offer than hypnotic horror. My Absolute Darling is worth it, with fragile tendrils of beauty and hope tenaciously emerging here and there in the gothic web the story weaves. There’s a faint sense that Turtle will survive, despite profound damage. Her story is mesmerizing, though occasionally unbearable. May the aptly named Tallent tell us many more.
My Absolute Darling is a shocking and unsettling novel about child abuse — it can be difficult to read, but it's an excellent debut from the Utah-based author ... My Absolute Darling is, very obviously, difficult to read, particularly the scenes that detail Martin's abuse. But it's also nearly impossible to put down ... In Turtle, Tallent has created a memorable and original character. She's easy to feel sorry for, but impossible to pity — she's tough, but capable of tenderness when she lets her guard down. Tallent does a masterful job explaining why some abuse victims stay with the people who hurt them, especially when they've never known a life without abuse ... There's no shortage of things to admire in My Absolute Darling — it's a devastating and powerful debut from a writer who's almost certain to have a wonderful career ahead of him.
Along with its horrors, My Absolute Darling is also a book of nostalgic pleasures. Turtle is a staunchly American type, perhaps the American type — tough, taciturn and almost pathologically self-sufficient ... This is a book profoundly about other books, fed by the classics like tributaries. Nabokov’s ghost presides — as it always does, over stories of innocence defiled — not just in Martin’s arias of self-pity or desire, which recall Humbert Humbert, but in the vocabulary, in the satisfaction of naming the world with scientific precision ... For all its pedigree, however, My Absolute Darling isn’t especially self-reflective. It’s really just a sequence of tightly choreographed action scenes ... Tallent is a confident enough writer to leave plot strands loose, but he leaves too much psychological terrain unmapped...What we’re left with is an action hero, a kind of male fantasy figure out of Mad Max: Fury Road. And it’s a fantasy of a wearying sort, because Turtle has clearly been designed to be 'empowering' ... Tallent is so fearless when evoking what the body can withstand, so scrupulous at capturing the visible world; what a writer he’ll be when he turns to charting internal, invisible cartographies as well.
Many recent young adult novels have featured adolescent girls who are self-sufficient and wise beyond their years, coming of age in harsh, unforgiving worlds...Nevertheless, someone should slap an NC-17 label on My Absolute Darling As well as being graphic about its sexual violence — and violence in general — the novel is long, dense, ornate in diction and full of sophisticated literary allusions. Middlemarch gets a shout-out, as does Deliverance. Martin reads Kant and Hume; there’s a bullied kid named Rilke. The analogues are not recent YA hits but novels like Charles Portis’s True Grit and Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian, both of which also feature teenage protagonists. Part of what makes Turtle so memorable is her passion for the natural world. She takes refuge in the woods and ocean. Descriptions you might skip in another novel here become a mesmerizing, fairy-tale-like dreamscape, hauntingly beautiful and threatening ... For the most part, Tallent manages to keep the melo- out of his drama. I could have done without quite so many animals killed in quite such coldblooded ways although maybe that is to be expected given the number of guns on the wall (and knives in the drawer). But My Absolute Darling is a novel that readers will gulp down, gasping.
This is abuse, and Tallent doesn’t shy away from the fact, but he is also insistent on naming their love as love. This is partly down to the lyricism of his prose. It is additionally because Martin, though a controlling monster who’s trapped Turtle in a frightening folie à deux, has created a world that remains enticing for her, primarily because of their shared closeness to nature ... From the point that Jacob and his friend Brett appear on the scene, the novel becomes a fast-paced adventure story...This phase of the story is too heavily plotted for my liking, because when you’re anxiously turning the pages wondering what will happen next there’s less time to appreciate the detail along the way, and it’s detail that Tallent is so good at. When he slows down, there’s an excitement in smaller moments ... At the end of this strange and remarkable book, civilisation triumphs. When we last see her, physically and spiritually broken, all Turtle can do is plant a garden in the town. This is a world beyond philosophy in which nourishment comes from nameable and tangible things. Her plants repeatedly die, but she tries again.
The language is as rich as the glades and rivers Turtle navigates ... It is indeed an amazing debut, but occasionally it veers off course. Martin has been set up as a father obsessively devoted to his daughter to the point of danger. But toward the ending, Tallent adds a new and unnecessary plot pivot, which changes Martin into a garden-variety pedophile and deflates the novel because it’s so unnecessary. My Absolute Darling is stunning and horrifying, but other times, it feels like it doesn’t quite trust its power over the reader, repeating over and over again that Martin owns Turtle and will kill her rather than lose her — and that Turtle hates and loves her dad. But that is a moving portrait of a damaged young girl struggling to mend her wounds, to figure out just what hope can hold, and to take her first risk that seems as much life and death as everything that has come before.
Martin is so fully realized that the daughter Tallent conjures would have to be remarkable to serve as his counterweight. The half-wild, vulnerable Turtle Alveston, whose conscience is the beacon of this dark book, proves up to the challenge. She has a center of gravity all her own ... Turtle’s awakening, as she continues to hold her father’s love in her heart even as she comes to recognize his ugliness, is the arc of Tallent’s story. My Absolute Darling is full of dramatic events, including a harrowing account of her and Jacob’s self-rescue after being washed out to sea by a giant wave. What makes the novel riveting, though, is Tallent’s gift for describing the psychological terrain Turtle traverses. The dynamics between abusive parents and their children are written about much more often than they are understood by their authors. Tallent captures the nuances ... Tallent has created — to use a shopworn but apt description — an unforgettable heroine, whose greatest challenge is to recognize the good and the bad within her and to choose the good.
The adolescent heroine of Gabriel Tallent's harrowing novel of abuse will not only break your heart, but leave your mind reeling with her resourcefulness, stamina and humanity. My Absolute Darling is a major American debut that incorporates psychological realism of the highest order, juxtaposed with nature writing that at times is so lyrical, you might as well be reading poetry ... Tallent is not just a good storyteller, he is a superlative describer of the natural world. But what sets him apart is his ability to bring to life how that natural world is interpreted, and what that reveals about the characters in his fiction ... Graphic but never gratuitous, Tallent forces the reader to dispense with the euphemistic psychology that allows us to minimize abuse and our responses to it ... Intense, powerfully wrought and memorable, My Absolute Darling is an absolutely thrilling literary success and a novel that will stay with me for a very long time.
...you’re on red alert every time [Martin] enters the room. Impressively, this is also a novel of great beauty, filled with lush evocations of the woods and 'the ocean broken by kelp beds, the bulbs and fronds stirring the surface' ... her interior monologue seems impossibly articulate. The only way to escape her father’s virtual suicide pact is through violence, and the novel culminates in an irruption of gunplay. Naturally, she’s also a crack shot. [Turtle] is different from the child abuse victims in Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life and Edward St. Aubyn’s Patrick Melrose novels. She has more in common with Batman, another crusading outsider who came to his powers through unimaginable trauma. Abuse narratives and superhero adventures may be the most popular storytelling genres of our age—it was only a matter of time before they merged.
...a harrowing story of child abuse that spirals into madness and violence. It's a terrific book, beautifully written and emotionally gripping ... My Absolute Darling is a strange hybrid of a book, part gorgeous nature writing, part psychologically astute family drama, part action-movie extreme violence. It is not a novel for the faint of heart, but it's a story that needs to be told, and Tallent tells it unforgettably.
Well-written but undeniably harrowing, My Absolute Darling is ultimately a stomach-turning story about what happens when a psychotic father discards societal norms in favor of his own twisted vision of 'family,' and how his distraught daughter struggles to break free ... No matter how exaggerated, My Absolute Darling is a testament to the horrors of abuse, and with its excellent prose and fast-paced plot, it's is a spirited debut, dark and disturbing.
Empathy is what My Absolute Darling wants to solicit for its characters, particularly Turtle, though Martin too, whose verbose expositions and complicated backstory are given ample space. But empathy to what end? Tallent clearly wants us to think about what compels us to mistreat others, and his novel offers a potent rendering of misogyny’s degrading consequences, yet its willingness to portray the violence done to Turtle in lushly detailed set pieces, complete with showy prose and acute sensory detail, undermines these high-minded intentions. My Absolute Darling tells us that imagining our way inside the mind of another — even another blurred by our own love or hate or lust — is vital to our humanity. However, it provokes something else: empathy intermingled with voyeurism, exploitation, titillation, and escapism ... Skillfully plotted, with long, cinematically rendered action sequences doled out at regular intervals, it expertly offers all the traditional pleasures of well-wrought fiction — immersive description, emotional stakes, absorbing characterization...Though the prose can strain too hard for artistry, much of it is flat-out lovely, best in the evocative yet clinically precise descriptions of nature and setting sprinkled throughout ... The lyricism that elsewhere works to immerse the reader in the novel’s setting purples in its depictions of rape and incest, pushing the realism toward icky erotic horror.
...there’s no doubt that Gabriel Tallent is a phenomenally gifted writer (it will probably be hard for any reviewer to resist a reference to his appropriate surname here). But Darling is also a difficult and often deeply unsettling read, the kind that overused phrases like 'trigger warning' were actually made for ... Tallent’s voice — particularly the way he writes about the natural world, in prose so dense and dazzling it feels almost hallucinogenic — is unforgettable, but it sometimes fails him when it comes to actual human dialogue; his characters tend to speak in either clipped monosyllables or grand peculiar paragraphs, oddly untethered from something they said or did two or 200 pages previously. And the book’s graphic depictions of physical and sexual abuse sometimes exhaust the limits of endurance and credulity. But Darling is a remarkable piece of work by almost any metric: Brutal, lyrical, and, for both better and worse, unforgettable.
Tallent writes about Turtle’s surroundings with lyrical prose, contrasting her unfortunate living conditions with the oceanic beauty just a short walk away. He also pulls no punches in describing in detail the instances of physical, mental and sexual abuse Martin inflicts on his daughter, who remains brave amid them all yet struggles internally. In that way, My Absolute Darling is an affecting read but also an important one.
As a reader, I am resistant to novels about abuse — but My Absolute Darling thunders past that preference just as Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life did two years ago. These novels achieve something similar to what happens in the best fiction about the Holocaust, seducing us with beautiful language and characters and then setting loose the drama and horror of true human evil. I hated it — and loved every minute.
My Absolute Darling is told in a tight third person, locked in on Turtle’s thoughts, and it is appropriately oppressive to be inside her mind ... What’s most impressive about My Absolute Darling is how carefully it handles its bleakness. Many abuse narratives are ostensibly about how terrible abuse is, but at the same time they invite their readers to wallow, to luxuriate in the idea of a young girl’s broken and violated body. My Absolute Darling is aware of what’s happening to Turtle’s body, but it remains firmly interior, focusing its attention on her warped and damaged psyche. The result is that it feels less exploitative than it does honest. And as Turtle gradually comes to terms with her secret hatred for Martin, and begins to take steps to separate herself from him forever, the outcome feels earned — and cathartic and spine-tingling as hell.
...a fearless adventure tale that’s as savvy about internal emotional storms as it is about wrangling with family and nature ... Tallent often stretches out visceral, violent scenes to a point that is nearly sadistic. But he plainly means to explore how such moments seem to slow time, imprinting his young characters deeply. And he also takes care with Martin’s character, showing how the autodidact, hard-edged attitude that makes him so monstrous also gives Turtle the means to plot against him. Ultimately, though, this is Turtle’s story, and she is a remarkable teenage hero, heavily damaged but admirably persistent. A powerful, well-turned story about abuse, its consequences, and what it takes to survive it.
In Turtle, Tallent has crafted a resourceful and resilient character. Unfortunately, Martin is such an obvious psycho creep that readers will wonder why the characters he interacts with—Turtle’s teachers, a friend from the old days—don’t see through him. Jacob, too, in the dialogue the author puts in his mouth, doesn’t sound like a real teenager. In the end, though, Turtle’s story is harrowingly visceral.