Book Review // My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell

My Dark Vanessa is a book unlike anything I’ve ever read before, and it was probably one of the most difficult reads I’ll ever experience. This book destroyed me for so many different reasons, and I have to give props to Kate Elizabeth Russell for not holding back. This novel left me feeling sickened, and heartbroken, and I’d definitely recommend thoroughly investigating the trigger warnings for this book because there are a lot. Even as someone who isn’t necessarily triggered by anything, this was a hard book to read, but boy was it an important one.

My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell
Pub. 2020 | 384 pages | Psychological Fiction

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.

This is a hard one to review, for many different reasons. Knowing that there are women out there who have had similar experiences to Vanessa makes this feel like non-fiction to me, and how do you review a book like that?

My Dark Vanessa is definitely well-written, there’s no denying that. It’s told in two timelines – Vanessa as a teenager, falling in love with her teacher, and Vanessa as an adult during the height of the #MeToo movement a few years ago. Even as an adult, Vanessa has convinced herself that her relationship with her former teacher was love, but now she’s being forced to confront the long-term repercussions of that relationship, and come to terms with the fact that her great love story was actually one of abuse.

This author does not shy away from the darkest parts of abuse. Every aspect of Strane’s relationship with Vanessa was utterly revolting, and it’s sickeningly graphic at times. I honestly can’t stress how difficult this was to read, but it was such an important book for so many reasons. It’s easy for us as readers to see the darkness that surrounds Strane and understand what is happening here. But for Vanessa, that manipulation and grooming that we can so clearly see occurring is what she perceives as romance.

But what made this book truly difficult for me, personally, was that I related to teenage Vanessa so hard. I understood her. And it scares me to think that if I was in Vanessa’s position when I was a teenager, I might have felt the exact same way she did. It’s easy to be sickened by this man as an adult looking from the outside in, but Vanessa was such a realistic character that it’s impossible not to understand her thoughts and actions.

Overall, My Dark Vanessa is a powerful story that will make you question everything you thought you knew about abuse and its victims. I didn’t give this book 5 stars because I enjoyed it. I gave it 5 stars because I believe it’s a story that needed to be told. The emotions I felt, the way it was written, the details of abuse that I could never have imagined… it was raw, and complex, and so unbelievably realistic to the very end.


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