“All he did was fall in love with me and the world turned him into a monster.”
– My Dark Vanessa (Kate Elizabeth Russell)
My Dark Vanessa
Author: Kate Elizabeth Russell
Page Count: 384
Published: 10 March 2020
Plot: (8.0 / 10) Characters: (7.0 / 10) Ending: (7.0 / 10)
*Trigger warnings: the book involves sexual abuse, rape, gaslighting, grooming*
Vanessa Wye was fifteen years old when she first had sex with her English teacher.
She is now thirty-two and in the storm of allegations against powerful men in 2017, the teacher, Jacob Strane, has just been accused of sexual abuse by another former student.
Vanessa is horrified by this news, because she is quite certain that the relationship she had with Strane wasn’t abuse. It was love. She’s sure of that.
Forced to rethink her past, to revisit everything that happened, Vanessa has to redefine the great love story of her life – her great sexual awakening – as rape. Now she must deal with the possibility that she might be a victim, and just one of many.
This book is…intense. Uncomfortable. Hard to read and yet hard to put down. It was really unsettling and I can totally see why this book isn’t for everyone. Trigger warnings, the book involves sexual abuse, rape and grooming.
Vanessa does not see herself as a victim, and the story is told from her perspective – present day and flashbacks to her time at school. The reader will see that she was groomed and abused by her teacher, but Vanessa doesn’t see it like this. I found myself frustrated by her, angry on her behalf, upset and uncomfortable at many of the descriptions of her time at school. “Enjoyed” isn’t the word to describe my time reading this, but it is compelling and I couldn’t put it down. I know the story is Vanessa’s, but I would have been intrigued to know a little more about Stane and his past.
I did like the ending, though I felt like it needed something more, I’m just not sure what. I think maybe the book was a little too long, a lot of the second half felt a little padded out and because the focus was so much on Vanessa, the other characters were very one-dimensional.
It’s an incredibly tough subject to navigate and I think the book is a very impressive (and ambitious) debut.