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My Absolute Darling: A Novel Hardcover – August 29, 2017
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An Amazon Best Book of September 2017: There’s so much to admire in My Absolute Darling: acute emotional insight, precise and evocative writing about the natural world, and pacing worthy of an action movie. How can this possibly be a debut? But some people live up to their names, and Gabriel Tallent, whose first novel this is, writes with bravura more experienced authors can only envy. His story, which feels a little like a girl-power fairy tale come true, starts dark. Fourteen-year old Julia, called Turtle, or sometimes Kibble, lives with her paranoid, survivalist father in the wilds of Mendocino County. Their ruin of a house has boarded-up windows and “spindled wooden railings overgrown with climbing roses and poison oak.” If Turtle is that rose, then her father is the poison oak: his touch (and he touches Turtle) leads to trouble. But he’s taught his daughter to shoot and forage -- she can “decipher” the woods, even at night -- and those skills serve her well when she finally starts to free herself from his control. One of the delights of this novel is the way Tallent reveals another culture – another world, really – coexisting in Mendocino, where middle-aged women practice yoga naked and swear by “the goddess” while their sons joke about hippies reading Finnegans Wake to their peyote plants. These flashes of humor and evidence of the sometimes goofy pleasures of civilization are like beacons lighting the way to a better life for Turtle, if only she can make her way out of the woods. --Sarah Harrison Smith, Amazon Book Review
"With its unconventional heroine and unflinching portrayal of an abused girl’s fight to save herself, My Absolute Darling seems poised to become the breakout debut of the year." —The New York Times
“My Absolute Darling is Gabriel Tallent's first novel, and no less than Stephen King has called it a "masterpiece" to rank with To Kill A Mockingbird and Catch-22.” —NPR
“Our generation’s next beloved literary heroine....this is one of the most important books you'll pick up this decade.” —Harper's Bazaar
"My Absolute Darling is a novel that readers will gulp down, gasping…Tallent [is a] prodigiously talented new writer.” —The Washington Post
"A gripping introduction to a seriously brave little girl... My Absolute Darling is an affecting read but also an important one." —USA Today
“Impressively, this is…a novel of great beauty, filled with lush evocations of the woods.” —Wall Street Journal
"A searing story of abuse and damaged people, but also about resilience, strength and survival. Much recommended." —Nicholas Kristof in The New York Times
“A gripping read, written in beautiful, brutal prose ... My Absolute Darling is a Great American Novel for the increasingly isolationist, fractionalised and disenchanted contemporary era.” –Financial Times
“A stunningly poetic psychological thriller.” —O, The Oprah Magazine
"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." —NPR.org
“An unputdownable coming-of-age novel.” —Entertainment Weekly
“The best drop-everything debut…if you loved To Kill A Mockingbird’s Scout Finch, you’ll be into Turtle Alveston.” –Glamour
“A brilliant and haunting debut.” —People
“Lush and vivid. You’ll read it with your stomach in your shoes, rooting for [Turtle] the whole time.” —Marie Claire
“[An] engrossing read.” —InStyle
“Captures a compelling young heroine.” —Vanity Fair
“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.” —The Houston Chronicle
“Stunning … contemplative and heart-wrenching.” –Los Angeles Review of Books
“Extraordinarily unsettling and ambitious…an amazing debut." —The San Francisco Chronicle
“Brilliant and terrifying, told in expansive, wild and bold prose…Reading this book is like watching an electrical storm, both beautiful and dangerous.” —The Minneapolis Star-Tribune
“[A] glaring, gorgeous book… My Absolute Darling sounds primal alarms with an urgent contemporary voice.” –Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
"Beautifully written and emotionally gripping… My Absolute Darling is a strange hybrid of a book, part gorgeous nature writing, part psychologically astute family drama." —Tampa Bay Times
“Explosive…There are many elements of this story we would rather not believe — all so convincingly rendered that we can’t help but believe them.” —The Boston Globe
“With its excellent prose and fast-paced plot, it is a spirited debut.” —Dallas News
“My Absolute Darling is an absolute triumph.” —The National
“Loved every minute.” —Newsday
“The year’s must-read novel...Tallent in this debut makes an old story — the drama of coming of age — feel original and full of youthful power." —The Times (London)
“An incandescent novel with an extraordinary, unforgettable heroine, both deeply contemplative and utterly thrilling.” —The Guardian
“Ferocious, heart-breaking …Tallent combines gorgeous passages about the wilderness Turtle knows well and a steady beat of dramatic tension in this smashing debut.” —BBC
“[A] gripping, vivid debut…Readers will root for Turtle as she sets out to escape and be absorbed by Tallent’s stunning descriptions of nature.” —RealSimple
“The cinematic pace of My Absolute Darling will have you physically reacting...as you barrel to the end of this incredibly redemptive, satisfying book.” —goop
"Easily one of my favorite debut novels of the past decade." —LitHub
“Gabriel Tallent showcases incredible emotional empathy and nature writing in this novel about a young woman named Turtle, who’s my new favorite character in all of fiction.” –Outside Online
“To read [My Absolute Darling] is to become an evangelist for it.” —The Millions
"Philosophical but without pretense, the novel proves a fascinating examination of personal strength… by allowing Turtle to define her own reality.” —Paste
"Cathartic and spine-tingling as hell." —Vox
"Turtle is the strong, resilient heroine we didn’t know we needed, and you’ll fall head over heels in love with My Absolute Darling.” —HelloGiggles
“A fearless adventure tale that's as savvy about internal emotional storms as it is about wrangling with family and nature… A powerful, well-turned story about abuse, its consequences, and what it takes to survive it.” —Kirkus, starred review
“Lucidly written, both heartbreaking and heartfelt, this book is ultimately affirmative without the slightest sentimentality, and it’s remarkable.” –Library Journal, starred review
“Remarkable not only for its characterization but also for its minute examination of the natural world that Turtle inhabits. So vivid is the gorgeously realized setting that it becomes itself a major character in a novel that lingers in the mind long after the final page.” –Booklist, starred review
“Emotionally fraught… Turtle’s story is harrowingly visceral.” —Publishers Weekly
"There are books we like well enough to recommend, but there are a very few... that we remember forever. To my own shortlist I can now add My Absolute Darling, by Gabriel Tallent...This book is ugly, beautiful, horrifying, and uplifting." —Stephen King
“Impossible to put down... a heartrending debut that will shock, then shake, then inspire you.” —Celeste Ng, New York Times-bestselling author of Little Fires Everywhere and Everything I Never Told You
“Every scene in this astonishing novel packs so much tension, so much insight, such beautiful prose and such masterful handling of detail, I simply could not stop reading.” —Phil Klay, National Book Award-winning author of Redeployment
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This is the story of 12-year-old Julia "Turtle" Alveson who lives with her survivalist father on the fringes of society in Mendocino, California. She is skilled in guns, survival skills and so on, but at sea with other people and in social situations. Told entirely from Turtle's point of view, we see her struggles with understanding her father's obsessive and abusive behaviour which she (and probably he) believes to be what love is. As events and growing maturity begin to make her more aware, the tension between what she has believed and what she begins to recognise as reality grows and Turtle has to wrestle with where her future lies and how, if at all, she can realise it.
This doesn't sound like a great read on the face of it, but it is. I genuinely found it hard to put this book down; the story is gripping, with some passages of incredible tension and real adventure, and Gabriel Tallent takes us right inside that young woman's head with her confusion, self-doubt (often spilling into self-loathing) and resilience in a way which I have seldom experienced. The portraits of her and of her monstrous father are fantastically real, and I found the entire thing completely convincing. Be warned that there are some quite horrifying scenes of child abuse, but they are absolutely justified in the context and excellently judged - a world away from the often offensively facile use of child abuse as a theme in run-of-the-mill thrillers.
The prose is excellent. Gabriel Tallent writes in a measured, unmelodramatic but rather lyrical style, which brings the people, especially Turtle, wonderfully to life. Just as a tiny example, we get sentences like this: "She waits there in the grass, feeling her every thought stored up and inarticulate within her," and this sort of brilliant distillation of internal experience shines through the book. The sense of place is excellent and dialogue is completely convincing; I especially liked some wonderful episodes of the jokey, wordy, literate chatter of two High School boys as it contrasted with Turtle's near-silent inarticulacy.
I find it hard to express quite how good I thought this book was. It is a rare combination of an utterly gripping story, excellent writing and genuine depth of content. Very, very warmly recommended.
I bought this book from Amazon for my kindle kind of impulsively. I'm a seasoned reader, enjoy a wide variety of subjects/genres and usually spend some time vetting a book by reading reviews, author information, samples, etc. My impetuous purchase of this title was due to the many rave reviews and recommendations from Amazon and other publications. Plus the subject and premise of the story sounded very intriguing. A survivalist father and his daughter living in the wild outside of Mendocino California, a beautiful location I've enjoyed visiting since childhood.
My warning to other readers is this. I had no idea the story would so closely revolve around the repeated physical abuse, rape and torture of a young girl by the protagonist, her father. Not only are these scenarios repeated throughout the book (one with a nine year old girl seemingly not related to the father) but the author appears to take a special relish in constantly describing in very denigrating terms, female genitalia.
For some reason when I started reading this book I wasn't sure of the gender of the author. But the more I read the cruel, derogatory. disparaging references to this young girl, the more I suspected this story was written by a male.
Apart from these unpleasant, hard to read passages, the book really just seemed to ramble on and on with strangely named characters and events thrown in higgledy-piggledy, Tempted to stop reading at several points, I stuck it out to the end. Partly just wanted to see how this author was going to wind things up and partly because I needed the author to redeem himself. He didn't. I actually skipped through the overly long conclusion to this sad tale and found it to be slightly ridiculous, overwrought and confusing. Book overall, depressing and dark. Do not understand the rave reviews.