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Book Club No.19

Gang, it's time for another Book Club post today and things are just ever so slightly different. I've gotten into the habit over the last few years of sharing 3 books in each Book Club review post because that tends to be a "nice" length post. But today's post has just two because oh boy, I had some thoughts to share lemme tell you. No, really. Let me tell you:

The Ask and the Answer: The Second Novel of Chaos Walking by Patrick Ness
If you read post No.17 in my Book Club series you will already know *just* how much I enjoyed the first book of Chaos Walking by Patrick Ness. But are you truly prepared for just how much I loved this second book? Strap yourselves in because I have so much to say. The Ask and the Answer picks up right where book one left off (spoilers are going to have to happen at this point if you haven't read the first book guys so all I can stress at this point is: go pick it up immediately!) with Todd and Viola being met by Mayor Prentiss in the empty town square of Haven. The two are subsequently separated under their confusion of him being here and beating them to the destination and thus the split-narrative of this book is born. I loved that this second book had a split-narrative between the two main characters as I feel Ness did such a stellar job of fully developing both Todd and Viola as characters that you don't even need to check the start of the chapter to know who's side of the story you're getting - you can just tell by the tone, language, emotions, and views.

The one thing I wanted to stress about the first book, The Knife of Never Letting Go, is that Ness masterfully created such a harrowing story that it's blew so many other plots and stories well out of the water for me and The Ask and the Answer is no different. Whilst the first novel sees a small town with almost cultish/religious undertones and dictations, The Ask and the Answer sees that spread and develop into colonialism and the idea of war, peace, co-existence and more. It grows on a scale that is unfathomable and as a reader you can't help but get swept along. There is *so* much development in this book that I could feel myself growing with each and every character. We see Todd truly grow from a boy to a man and you can feel the time lapse through the pages in such a palpable way. I feel like Ness does an excellent job of excelling the story along on the timeline to it's end destination but he manages to not gloss or skip over anything so you truly feel the journey. But? It doesn't drag. Never at any point during the time I read this did I think "come on, get on with it!" and instead was left as shocked, horrified, manipulated and moved as I predicted I would be.

I honestly didn't think this book could possibly be better than the first, but it absolutely is. The thread of "faith" throughout the whole novel that Todd and Viola share in each other is a bond you truly feel and oh my days, do you feel it when that faith is tested or shook. It brings layers and layers to their friendship and could possibly be setting them up for a romance in the future (who knows, I don't care I just want to carry on living in this world vicariously). The sacrifices and twists and turns in this novel are so gut-wrenching at times that those made in the first book seem like mere drops of rain in a vast sea. After reading this I had to take a break and read something else because I'm terrified to pick up the last remaining book in the triology - half because I don't want the thrill-ride to end and half out of concern that the ending won't top this amazing middle section. In true Ness style, The Ask and the Answer ends on another cliffhanger that would put the likes of Lord of the Rings or A Game of Thrones to shame and my goodness, I can't wait to find out what happens next. Grab a copy of The Ask and the Answer for £7.18 here

My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent
Now for something just as harrowing but in an entirely different way. My Christmas reading gifts from Matt were a hilarious mismatch of YA fiction, true crime non-fiction, and then, this. My Absolute Darling is a Sunday Times Bestseller and appeared to have rave reviews from authors and book critics alike so I was instantly intrigued as I'd not heard of it before I'd ripped the Christmas paper off of it. Described by some as a "psychologically difficult journey", "brutal and harrowing", and "violent, gut-wrenching, and terrifying", I felt instantly sold because if a book has a dark gritty story to it, you can count me in.

So, the plot (trigger warning: rest of review will talk about physical/emotional/sexual abuse in a parent/daughter relationship). My Absolute Darling centres around a 14-year-old girl called Julia (also referred to as Turtle, Kibble, Ninja...) who lives in a very basic and isolated home with her father along the Northern California coast. She's struggling at middle school, teachers are concerned, her dad drinks as does her granddad who lives in a dingy little trailer out the back of their land, and she spends most of her time conflicted with how she is supposed to feel and how she is actually feeling. Her whole life is her daddy. Since her mother died when she was younger, it has been Turtle and her father, Martin, struggling to get by. He has taught her how to hunt, camp, shoot guns, and look after herself. He has a feverish fear of the world coming to an end and is extremely eloquent and informed in the way that people who read the horror stories in the news seem to be when they regurgitate that learned information. During this hormonal teenage time of uncertainty and self-doubt and questioning, Turtle happens to meet another teenager, Jacob, and his friend, Brett, and she gets her first glimpse as to what friendship could be (and of course, her first crush). She spends all of her time isolating herself from everyone except her father but meeting Jacob and Brett makes her start to question everything - including how her father treats her - and this sees Turtle develop into her own person.

Initially when I started reading this book, I popped it onto my Goodreads and my heart sunk. I saw a number of split reviews of people either loving this book or people rating it one star at best due to it's graphic story telling and how it approached abuse. I ignored the reviews in fear of spoiling the plot for myself and read through the first few chapters and thought that this might be the first book of 2019 I had to truly give up on. I found the excessive description of things such as the foliage so detailed and flowery (excuse the pun) with the choice of words that I couldn't keep up with the plot. It distracted me from what was happening and as a slow reader, I found this was setting me back from the get-go in terms of the story's pace. Then we get to the graphic-ness of this book and boy, do I see where so many reviews are coming from. As I said earlier, I love a book that will push boundaries and go into the details others might not, but when a father has raped his teenage daughter and the author uses the phrase "engorged pussy" at one point to describe that act, I felt myself recoil from a book for the first time. I remember turning to Matt after finishing the chapter and saying I really wasn't sure if this book was going to be for me. I carried on reading it to see if this was just a blip in the language and if the story could win me back around and thankfully, it kind of did (but only kind of).

I eventually got used to Tallent's writing style and I actually found the airy fairy-ness of the descriptions quite well suited to the plot as it provided a sense of how isolated Turtle is not just in her situation with her father/school/peers but, also in her location and the scenery/environment around her. It kind of reminded me of one of those slow burning indie movies about teenagers in a warmer climate than the UK where everything little detail seems romanticised. However I still believe the overuse of the adjectives made it a challenging read for me, cover to cover. Martin, the father, is such a despicable character because he is portrayed with so much charisma yet is nothing short of disgusting, toxic, and manipulative but I do understand why that is done - that's exactly the sort of stereotype we see in so many abuse narratives. My real problem was more the choice of violence and acts shown in this novel that appeared to push boundaries but not in the desired way. It felt like a lot of the incest and abusive acts were written in to shock the reader - they often seemed unprovoked and alien in the story despite it being about an abusive relationship throughout. I think the reason for this is because Tallent writes the majority of these plot points with a sense of romance and it's just nothing short of bizarre? Turtle struggling with what is happening to her and struggling with her feelings towards her father is understandable in that "but he's my daddy and therefore I should love him" way, but there's times when Tallent makes it seem that Turtle wants her father to touch her, that she welcomes his advances and it just completely threw me and made it unbelievable. Not to mention the use of "pussy" throughout, sometimes at seemingly random intervals, to then be exchanged with "cunt" later in the novel - I just didn't get it.

Overall this book did create a sense of suspense for me because it was a harrowing story and thus, I wanted to find out what would happen next. The problem for me though was the language and the overriding feeling that this was a middle-aged male author trying to write as a 14-year-old girl in this situation. Little things like the description of Turtle's appearance and body made me roll my eyes because, of course, she was "ugly but in a pretty 'she doesn't realise it' way" like all girls seem to be in these sort of stories. There were *so many* threads throughout the plot that were just left unfinished or characters dipping in and out that served no true purpose that it just further highlighted how under developed the main characters were. There were concerned teachers at the start who seemed to disappear when Turtle stopped attending school yet reappeared at the end. There was a young girl just randomly added into the mix that acted as some sort of "wake up call" for Turtle in her feelings towards her father but that "wake up call" had already happened many chapters earlier. Martin is sadistic and needs help. We get it. Turtle spends literally all of her free time roaming the woods or cleaning her gun - you don't need to write it into every chapter, multiple times, like it's her diary entries. The sheer amount of combined pages that must have collectively been used just to state gun types or how to clean a gun, or conversations that literally read "Turtle?" "Yeah?" "Turtle?" "What?" "Turtle?" was baffling. I'm coming off as so negative about this book and all in all, I did think it was a pretty good read and certainly one to check out if you're into grittier tales (especially given the seemingly clear divide between readers as to whether it's a showstopper or not), but there were so many flaws, I had to mention some here.

The chapters leading up to the last few were some of the best for me because the suspense written into them were great. You're suddenly thrusted into this terrifying situation and you can feel the horror Turtle and others face. The problem with it though is that the story had been so lacklustre in the lead up to this point that it comes at you completely left-field so it feels so unbelievable and over the top. The suspense then bluntly subsides and we're left with a few chapters detailing how Turtle deals without her dad around months after that suspense and unfortunately, it was a handful of chapters that just went back to the wishy-washy writing without a lot of plot. As a reader I was left curious as to how many characters are. I was left with questions but not in a "wow, I hope there's a book two!" kind of way but more of a "this book is utterly frustrating" kind of way. Despite my middle-of-the-road review, you might want to check it out still because it is dark and it does draw you in. You can pick up My Absolute Darling here for £6.47

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