My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent

Sometimes, it’s a single character that makes a novel unforgettable; sometimes an intense plot puts you in a book’s grip; other times still, it’s the writer’s craft that draws you in and keeps you there. But when these three elements are equally accomplished (and I think it’s actually rare that they are), then you have quite a reading experience on the cards: My Absolute Darling is a very intense one. Some months down the track, I’m not sure I’ve recovered just yet.

‘Turtle’ Alveston is the character in question, a 14 year-old survivor of family violence, enduring a life of torment with her abusive father on the edge of the wilds of northern California. She’s a tough young woman because she must be, and is resourceful in a way only the daughter of an unhinged survivalist could be. Finding solace in nature, she’s understandably most comfortable alone, though she still has to tolerate the banalities of everyday life with people unaware of her hellish home existence. But something’s got to give: it’s just a matter of exactly what, when and where.

Be warned that this book has some graphic and upsetting scenes, and some moments so anxiety-inducing and terrifying that it had me reading with my eyes half closed. This is not a book for the fainthearted; but if you’ve read and loved A Little Life or Preparation for the Next Life, and you’re up for being challenged by the dark places an author can take their characters, then there is so much reward in Turtle’s story – ultimately one of redemption, strength and survival – and so much beauty in Tallent’s writing, that it reminded me of why I love to read. This book is completely gut-wrenching, utterly compelling, and very, very good.

Alison Huber is the head book buyer at Readings.