I’ve had My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russel on my bedside table for months now, I’ve picked it up and then put it back down a hundred times over the past few months and it’s not because the novel is not well written but rather because the subject matter is just so very hard to digest!

The Synopsis

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.

My Thoughts

As my eldest child races towards adolescence with the belief that she knows everything and is invincible, this book left me terrified of things that could happen. Beautifully and masterfully written, once you learn to stomach the difficult topic of pedophile grooming, I feel like this book is a necessary read, exploring really hard topics of abusive relationships, grooming, and the effects and impact of trauma. as well as how every individual will process and cope differently.

In a world overrun by the scourge of GBV, there were passages that brought me to my knees!

“Somehow I sensed that what was coming for me then. Really, though, what girl doesn’t? It looms over you, that threat of violence. They drill the danger into your head until it starts to feel inevitable.”

The Verdict

A solid 4-star rating from me. A tough but necessary read. Unputdownable once I got over my initial revulsion.