A book review: My Dark Vanessa

My Dark Vanessa: The Sunday Times and New York Times Best Selling,  Gripping, and Emotional Fiction Debut of 2020: Russell, Kate  Elizabeth: 9780008342241: Books

TITLE: My Dark Vanessa

AUTHOR: Kate Elizabeth Russell


GENRE: Adult Fiction/Contemporary


*Synopsis taken from Goodreads*

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 RoomMy Dark Vanessa is an era-defining novel that brilliantly captures and reflects the shifting cultural mores transforming our relationships and society itself.

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I usually write my reviews as soon as I finish reading a book, even if I’m not planning on posting it for a while, because I prefer to get my thoughts out whilst they are still fresh. However, this one took me days to get started on, and actually it is well over a month later that I sit here finishing it. Why? Because it’s taken me a while to be able to coherently communicate how I feel about this book, and to be honest I’m not sure how successful I will be now. The difficulty is that I don’t really know how I feel about it.

There is no denying that it has been written well. Russell has a fantastic command of the written word, and her prose is a delight to read. However, I question some of her choices. I think the rape scenes were simply too extreme. The descriptions went far past the necessary point, and left me wondering how much was simply for shock factor. I appreciate that this book is supposed to leave one questioning, and feeling uncomfortable, but I feel as though this was achieved already – the extent with which Russell took things was just too far in my opinion. This is the sole reason why the book didn’t rate higher with me.

I also think the book could have been shorter. Whilst I didn’t find it a slog to get through I did find certain parts pointless – Vanessa at college for example. There was quite a lot of filler that in my opinion didn’t serve to enrich the plot or the character development, it simply increased the page count, and unfortunately, my boredom.

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My Dark Vanessa jumps back and forward in time to show Vanessa as both a teenager and an adult, and this was executed well and really helped to show the long term effects of abuse of this kind, and I feel like this approach was the right one. Also, the character of Strane was brilliantly crafted – I hated him right from the start and this didn’t change throughout the novel. For me there was no complexity to him, there were no grey areas or opportunities to think of him as anything other than what he was – a disgusting paedophile. I don’t want to give anything away for anybody that hasn’t read it yet, but I was disappointed with his ending, I wanted a different outcome, although I must admit it was exactly the outcome that I would expect from somebody like him.

Overall a well-written and thought provoking piece, just disappointing that the rape scenes were depicted to such extremes. Proceed with caution if you haven’t read it yet and are planning to, it certainly isn’t one for the faint-hearted.

Have you read My Dark Vanessa? What did you think about it? If you haven’t read it do you think that you will? As always I would love to hear your thoughts!

Thanks for reading, I hope that you enjoyed!

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Until the next time…Jess x

18 thoughts on “A book review: My Dark Vanessa

  1. I have just finished reading this book.
    I can honestly say I was surprised to read your review. Graphic account of the rape etc etc. I am sat here asking myself is that how I felt?
    No I can honestly say that there was no shock or repulsion for that description.
    My heart and stomach were too much in constant upheaval at the story of guilt, obsession and betrayal.
    I have been on the receiving end of sexual abuse from an older man. Even now as senior woman I can remember smells, sounds and threats all said with flattery and secret winks.
    This book shows the inner conflict of enjoying the attention, excusing the crime and trying to live with the aftermath.
    I highly recommend it despite the realism of the rape, it is not pretty but that was the point to compete with the romanticism of the teenage child.


  2. Your thoughtfulness has paid off . It’s interesting to know what you thought. I will ( although might be a long wait as I’m reading really slow at the moment. )

    Liked by 1 person

  3. A good honest review. I have considered reading this for a while. I like that you have seen the positives whilst being honest about the content.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I hadn’t seen this till reading your forceful analysis – and score, which invited more questions. Like nsford, almost certainly not for me. Do writers believe now that good writing isn’t enough ? To get attention, shock ? .

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It was such a shame because the writing is superb, and really would’ve been enough on its own. I feel like so often in all media now things are taken too far to the extreme – whether books/films/video games, and it’s so unnecessary.


    1. Thank you! It’s been everywhere hasn’t it! The themes are heavy going that’s for sure, so definitely not worth picking up if you dont think it’s for you. It was a really frustrating read with how shocking she seemed intent on making things, I really wish she’d held back because that aside the writing was fantastic. I do think in all media outlets these days there is more and more of a desire to shock, and quite often it’s unnecessary.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’m glad that the writing was so good, it seems that the content is more of a problem. I think you’re right about the shock. It can be good for people to be out of their comfort zone and try something different but it shouldn’t be for the sake of sensation.

        Liked by 1 person

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