TITLE: My Dark Vanessa
AUTHOR: Kate Elizabeth Russell
GENRE: Adult Fiction/Contemporary
MY RATING: 3/5
*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 Room, My Dark Vanessa is an era-defining novel that brilliantly captures and reflects the shifting cultural mores transforming our relationships and society itself.
You might like – A book review: If I Can’t Have You (ARC)
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.
You might like – A book review: Blind
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!