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Book Review: My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell

Book Review: My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth RussellMy Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell
Published by 4th Estate on March 10th 2020
Genres: Contemporary, Adult
Pages: 384
Format: Audiobook
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Exploring the psychological dynamics of the relationship between a precocious yet naïve teenage girl and her magnetic and manipulative teacher, a brilliant, all-consuming read that marks the explosive debut of an extraordinary new writer.

2000. Bright, ambitious, and yearning for adulthood, fifteen-year-old Vanessa Wye becomes entangled in an affair with Jacob Strane, her magnetic and guileful forty-two-year-old English teacher.

2017. Amid the rising wave of allegations against powerful men, a reckoning is coming due. Strane has been accused of sexual abuse by a former student, who reaches out to Vanessa, and now Vanessa suddenly finds herself facing an impossible choice: remain silent, firm in the belief that her teenage self willingly engaged in this relationship, or redefine herself and the events of her past. But how can Vanessa reject her first love, the man who fundamentally transformed her and has been a persistent presence in her life? Is it possible that the man she loved as a teenager—and who professed to worship only her—may be far different from what she has always believed?

Alternating between Vanessa’s present and her past, My Dark Vanessa juxtaposes memory and trauma with the breathless excitement of a teenage girl discovering the power her own body can wield. Thought-provoking and impossible to put down, this is a masterful portrayal of troubled adolescence and its repercussions that raises vital questions about agency, consent, complicity, and victimhood. Written with the haunting intimacy of The Girls and the creeping intensity of Room, My Dark Vanessa is an era-defining novel that brilliantly captures and reflects the shifting cultural mores transforming our relationships and society itself.

This book was raw, unsettling, frustrating, saddening, horrific, dark, compelling. 

My Dark Vanessa will undoubtedly go down as one of the best books I’ve read this year, and certainly lives up to the hype. 

I’m actually in awe of the fact that this is Russell’s debut novel. It is written in such a way that it sucks you in, roots itself deep in your brain, and won’t let you rest until you reach that last page. 

I’m still trying to wrap my head around what took place in this book. I feel haunted. I feel angry. But mostly, I feel sad. I’m sad for the life Vanessa Wye could have lived had she never met Jacob Strane. I’m sad for the girls that came after and weren’t protected. I’m sad for Vanessa’s defiant mentality that what she and Strane had was love and not abuse. And that last part angers me. It angers me that a man in a position of power can impose his will on a young, malleable teenager to the point where she can’t see fiction from reality anymore. Even 20 years after the fact.  

There is no easy way to talk about this novel and its complexity, especially in the backdrop of the #MeToo movement. This is a book that is going to cause a lot of discussion and a lot of discomfort – as it should!  It is not a read that should be taken lightly. 

Trigger warnings: rape, abuse, alcohol abuse, drug abuse

Will you be reading My Dark Vanessa?

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