My Dark Vanessa

Mar, 03, 2020
My Dark Vanessa Book Cover My Dark Vanessa
Kate Elizabeth Russell
Thriller? Character Study? Gritty, Dark and Uncomfortable
4th Estate
March 31st


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, and as riveting as it is disturbing, My Dark Vanessa goes straight to the heart of some of the most complex issues our age is grappling with.

“It’s just my luck” He said. “That when I finally find a soulmate, she’s fifteen years old”.

Thank you to 4th Estate Books and Netgalley for an advance copy of this one!

My Dark Vanessa is stated to be an “era-defining novel” and I would have to agree. This story really opens up a discussion of some of the most complex issues our age is grappling with. It truly is “nuanced, uncomfortable, bold and powerful, and as riveting as it is disturbing”.

I have been hearing rave reviews about this one and it hasn’t even been released yet. I decided to pick it up, only having a brief idea of the synopsis. Oh, how I completely underestimated how dark this story was actually going to get.

“I want you to stop, I think. But I don’t say it out loud. I can’t talk, can’t see. Even if I force my eyes open, they won’t focus. My head is cotton, my mouth is gravel…A thought shoots through me. Is this rape? Is he raping me?”

My Dark Vanessa is an alarmingly realistic character study of a sexual abuser. Told from the perspective of our main character, Vanessa, groomed from the age of fifteen. The story skips between alternate timelines, analysing Vanessa and Strane’s ‘relationship’ across decades. ‘Relationship’ is a controversial term to use in this context, but this is truly the central conflict of this entire novel. Vanessa has been groomed since her youth and thus the lines between a consensual relationship and an abusive relationship are blurred for her.

“It wasn’t about how young I was, not for him. Above everything else, he loved my mind. He said I had a genius-level emotional intelligence and that I wrote like a prodigy, that he could talk to me, confide in me. Lurking deep within me, he said, was a dark romanticism, the same kind he saw within himself. No one had understood that dark part of him until I came along”.

This story also opens up many conversations which are necessary to have in the wake of the #metoo movement, and when discussing abuser privilege. Throughout this book, there are occasions where victims are not believed and where an abuser is not even questioned. At one point Vanessa even recounts:

“Did he really think he would ever go to prison, a Harvard-educated…white man?”

Also, while this is technically marketed as a thriller on goodreads, there is nothing thrilling. The writing is compulsive but the story is the reflective character study. There aren’t really plot-twists etc. That is not what this book is striving to do.

Overall, I think that everyone should read this book. It is uncomfortable, bold, graphic, horrifying…but it is also so very important. The story that this novel weaves is one of a very controversial abusive relationship. However, seeing this through the eyes of someone who does not classify themselves as a ‘victim’ and for someone who, through years of suffering this abuse, these lines are blurred. The main character finds herself questioning in this novel whether she was ever raped, whether she was a victim, whether her abuser was an abuser. This is such an important message, as to how victims (especially young, naive victims who suffer grooming for so long) can see their ‘relationship’ in a completely different light to an outsider. They can live in true denial. I honestly feel as though this could open up such a true, raw and honest conversation about abusers and victims and believing victims. Always believing victims.

“I have power. Power to make it happen. Power over him. I was an idiot for not realising this sooner”.

You will find yourself being uneasy throughout this one, it is graphic and uncomfortable. However, it is also a truly important story.

T/W: graphic sex scenes, rape, statutory rape, suicide, pedophilia.

Check out my review of ‘My Dark Vanessa’ by Kate Elizabeth Russell on Instagram and Goodreads!

Check out some of my other book reviews here

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Hi! I'm Ruby! Cheerful and sarcastic introvert. Reading is my biggest hobby and the main focus of my blog and bookstagram account. In my spare time I love to travel, binge TV shows and go on muddy dog walks.


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