Book Review: My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell

 

My Dark Vanessa

I’d seen this book on a couple of lists of “books to read in 2020”, so had a look on NetGalley to see if it was available – and it was!

Here is the blurb:

“An era-defining novel about the relationship between a fifteen-year-old girl and her teacher
ALL HE DID WAS FALL IN LOVE WITH ME AND THE WORLD TURNED HIM INTO A MONSTER
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.
Nuanced, uncomfortable, bold and powerful, My Dark Vanessa goes straight to the heart of some of the most complex issues our age.”

Firstly – this is not an easy read.  It’s dark and disturbing and I could see would be a trigger for some people who’ve been in a similar situation.  That said – it is also a very good read.

It flicks between present day (when Vanessa is 32 and working a pretty dead end job in hospitality) and back when she was a teenager and first crossed paths with Strane.  As the reader you can totally see how Strane groomed and abused Vanessa – but in her eyes it was the love of her life.  It then follows her life through the intervening 17 years – and how her entire life is entwined with the abuse she suffered / her great love affair – depending who you are.

I think the fact Vanessa was a similar age to my eldest daughter made it all the more difficult to read – I could empathise with her parents – as well as with Vanessa herself.

Vanessa is just so totally blind to what is happening to her – and really feels that Strane is in love with her and caring for her and only doing what she wants – it’s desperately sad.  You can see this affects her relationships with all of those around her – family, friends, men, future lecturers, colleagues.

When Strane is accused by another girl of abuse – Vanessa has to question what happened to her too – but still she sees it as a great romance, and that she was far more special to him than anyone else has ever been.  The grooming was exceptionally well done…..

Lots of famous literature is quoted, as Strane is an English teacher – in many instances where there is a similar type of relationship – like ‘Lolita’.  I’ve never read this and wonder if there were more references that I would have understood if I had?  But it didn’t detract from my understanding of the book.

In this era of #MeToo it does make you stop and think more about the older powerful man and the younger vulnerable woman keen to impress.  (Actually – one of the jurors in the recent Harvey Weinstein trial has reviewed this exact book on ‘Goodreads’ which made it to the press for the similarities with the legal case).

This is thought a provoking and well written book, and I was keen to find out what happened  – but it was not an easy read, and some of the sex scenes are quite graphic – although probably needed to be in the shocking context of the book.

Many thanks to the publishers and Net Galley for my advance review copy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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