Book Review: Absorbed, by Kylie Whitehead

When I first heard about this week’s book, I knew I had to read it. Up for review this week is a title that’s not just a debut for its author, Kylie Whitehead, but the first book from a shiny new imprint, New Ruins (a collaboration between Dead Ink and Influx Press). It’s Absorbed, a story of body horror, female insecurity and modern relationships. How did I get on with it? Read on to find out!

From the blurb:

Allison has been with Owen since university. She’s given up on writing her novel and is working a dull office job at the local council – now it feels like the only interesting thing about her is that she’s Owen’s girlfriend. But he’s slipping away from her, and Allison has no idea who she’ll be without him.

Panicking, she absorbs him…

Soon Allison begins taking on Owen’s best qualities, becoming the person she always thought she should be. But is Owen all she needs to complete herself? Will Allison ever be a whole person?

Without wishing to be trite, Absorbed is, well, hugely absorbing. Written in the first person from Allison’s point of view, we’re very quickly shown the world from her perspective, and it’s a perspective that’s very easy to identify. You will recognise parts of yourself in the way Allison thinks and frets, or parts of people you know. She is a wholly believable character who finds herself in an unbelievable situation and decides to make the best of it. What’s more, even if you don’t necessarily agree with everything she does, she’s very likeable, in part thanks to her wickedly snarky take on things:

“Darren wished the whole office a happy New Year. His voice did nothing to help his professional demeanour. It sounded like he had been involved in a horrific and unfortunate helium-prank accident, which seemed the exact sort of thing that might happen to him. Jean was fawning, rubbing her hands together nervously and then waving her arms around like a mad clown. She was attempting to hug Darren but chickened out at the last minute. A little grunting noise slipped out of me, almost a laugh.”

Absorbed, Pages 40-41

It’s not just Allison’s life post-absorbing that we get to see though. Much of her prior relationship with Owen is laid bare too, often because she realises she’s taken on something of his personality. In one scene, Allison realises that she’s not worried about how she’s reacting to the news as she watches it, aware that previously she had been performing for Owen, hoping he would see her in the way she wanted to be seen. It’s one of many examples of what feel like intimate secrets being told, their frequency and the level of candour that Allison displays lending things an almost confessional feel. Little is left off the page as Allison struggles to forge an identity for herself – one that isn’t founded solely on being Owen’s girlfriend. Her relationship with her parents plays a part here, but her attitudes towards other women – be they friends or potential rivals (usually unbeknown to them) – is a subject that’s often returned to with unflinching honesty.

Deeply introspective, darkly amusing and immensely readable, Absorbed is even better than I hoped it would be. Kylie Whitehead is undoubtedly one to watch.

Absorbed is published by New Ruins, and is out now.

Currently reading: House of Suns, Alastair Reynolds
Currently listening: The Electric Age, Overkill

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