Absorbed by Kylie Whitehead

Absorbed was a book which had caught my attention on social media which I picked up recently having been intrigued by its premise. It is published by New Ruins, a collaborative imprint from Dead Ink Books and Influx Press, an imprint which states they have a focus on books ‘for readers unafraid of transgressing boundaries’ and that is certainly something that has been achieved with Kylie Whitehead’s haunting, unusual debut. 

The story is narrated by Allison, a woman in her twenties who we learn from the opening pages is filled with anxiety and insecurity surrounding her life, an existence in which she feels unfulfilled. Stuck in a dull job with her writing dreams on the back burner, Allison feels that the only thing she has in the world is her long-term partner, Owen, with whom she has been since her university days. But her reliance on Owen, and the almost unbearable love she feels for him, makes the thought of losing him all the more terrifying. Allison finds herself consumed by existential dread and jealousy, forever fearing that the love of her life may be taken away from her, and wonders how exactly she can stop that from happening. It is here that the novel takes an unusual turn, as this is not your typical novel dealing with love and relationships. As she continues to agonise over the future of her relationship, desperately trying to keep things fresh and interesting, a panicked Allison ends up ‘absorbing’ Owen whilst in bed together, a startling image and one that poses one of the novels many questions surrounding love and the bonds we form, and how in this case we see a woman who so desperate to keep her lover by her side, she ensures he becomes part of her… 

The novel has an unusual, dark premise, with this concept of a human being able to absorb another and take on their qualities, to be connected in such a bizarre way, giving the story an eerie, horror element. But alongside this horror and the ongoing mystery, as the reader is left wondering how things may turn out, there is a lot of exploration into love and relationship dynamics that makes for fascinating reading. We get a glimpse into the troubled brain of the protagonist, and the thoughts that continue to haunt her. Along the way we delve into the history of Allison and Owen’s relationship over time, the insecurities that Allison has, the way that she struggles to establish if she is worthy of love, and how she can maintain it in a world in which she feels under threat. The story is certainly a thought provoking one, as it explores modern relationships, communication (or lack thereof) as well as body image and insecurity. In addition, there is a sense of unease and mystery built throughout as to how Allison is able to have absorbed Owen in the first place, with hints going back to her unsettled childhood, and Allison’s experiments with the supernatural adding another layer to the story which made it one that I won’t forget in a hurry, and one that has made me excited to read what is next for Kylie Whitehead and for New Ruins. 

Absorbed was a novel that intrigued me from the opening pages, as it explores issues that are relatable and relevant to us all, whilst creating this bizarre and claustrophobic world in which we see, quite literally, how we can become consumed by love… 

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