Book: My Absolute Darling
Author: Gabriel Tallent
Publisher: 4th Estate
A sense of dread filled in me every time I picked up the book. It lingered on long after I clapped it shut. And in an extremely warped way, I enjoyed the gloom setting in. I hated this book. And I loved it too. Turtle Alveston’s world was one that I could not relate with. But as I read her mind, I saw a new side of the world. It was stark naked, and breeding with the dank injustice of abuse.
14-year-old Turtle was different from the other kids in school. There was a rustic cool vibe that surrounded her. Many of the kids admired her weird ways, while others just kept safe distance. And as Turtle saw them go about their lives, somewhere, she knew that there was something wrong with hers. She heard about the stories of her grandmother and the other women of the house. The way they cared for the house and the lawns. And she wondered how it would be to have a woman in the house. She loved her father, and she knew no mother. But little did she know that their love was unusual. At times, she knew he went too far. And she hated him for it. But then, she loved him all the time. At the age of six she had learnt how to shoot a gun. She was raised to bang open the cap of a beer bottle and pass it to her dad every morning. And perform a finger amputation on a visitor on his command. He raped her every night, finding pleasure in his shame. And broke her into little pieces that she tried gathering when she chanced upon two lost boys out on a trek.
Turtle found Jacob Learner — the boy with all the worldly comforts and a loving family. And life was never the same after she did so. The closer she got to him, the more she realised that there was a real problem. Inching out of denial, she made her resolution stronger with every passing day. But slowly, felt it fade, the moment she found Martin Alveston’s presence oppress her. “I want to die.” she repeated, as he tortured her through the formative years of her life. But she made sure to say these words to herself, with only the dingy walls of her dilapidated ancestral house as witness. But she was a fighter. She could start up a fire without a light. She could dive into a pool and catch an eel. She could eat a scorpion without flinching. And she could survive abuse in the harshest, most excruciating form. It was reason enough to give her a reason to die. But she decided to live. And face her worst nightmares, night on night.
Throughout the book, Gabriel Tallent gives us a peek into the mind of this teenager. But he also opens up our minds to the kind of unsaid damage that can happen to a child with the way they are being treated. In the Indian context, a lot of times, child abuse is ignored. Parents either don’t believe the child or keep silent to ensure they’re not judged by society. In either case, that harms the child more than they can imagine. Because their future depends on their present state of mind.
Unfortunately, the perpetrator is a family member or a known acquaintance/friend. In Turtle’s case, her own father assaults her time and again, but throughout the book, she looks for help from different people, even though she doesn’t really know herself that she needs it. Her grandfather steps up to the task but fails, but when she sees it happening to another young girl, she reaches out to her father’s friend. The friend ignores her plea, just like most parents do, thinking they know the perpetrator all too well and he/she is not capable of committing such a crime. But not all children are as strong as Turtle. This book raises many questions on our society and urges us to open our eyes to see the bleak darkness in the world. And for all those who have suffered its torments with a tape on their lips, this book urges you to take action and speak to someone about it. Because the minute you let it off your shoulders and confide in a professional, it will become easier to bear.
All in all, the sad truth of life narrated graphically by Gabriel Tallent can consume your guts with their cringe-worthy pain. But that’s what makes this book so hard-hitting. It makes you experience the torture with every turn of the page. And you will love to hate it—just like Turtle loves her daddy.