Book review: My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell

Title: My Dark Vanessa

Author: Kate Elizabeth Russell

Genre: Contemporary Fiction

Publisher: William Morrow

Publication date: 10th March 2020

My rating: ★ ★ ★  ☆



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.

My review:

Not all books are supposed to be entertaining and easy to digest. Some books strive to bring out all forms of humanity and incite the most complex array of emotions in its readers. My Dark Vanessa is most definitely one of those books – daring and ambitious with the intention of delivering a strong message to its readers.

Sexual abuse is hardly ever explored to this degree in books and media. When I originally read the blurb and reviews I was surprised to see that this is the main subject matter of the book with Vanessa, a 15 year old schoolgirl, as the main character. I certainly didn’t expect it to be discussed in such detail and can only admire the author for the courage to explore it to this extent despite the stigmas attached in our modern day society. Although the book was extremely disturbing and difficult to read, it is equally powerful and fearless in its attempt to remove barriers and analyse the deepest and darkest thoughts from the victim’s perspective.

One of the most meaningful strategies used is the first person narrative. There were moments where I felt I was in Vanessa’s shoes, living through the horrors she was facing and that made it even more real and horrifying. It also delivered a more genuine and raw perspective during the parts where Vanessa was left on her own to reflect on some of her choices and try to rationalise the relationship. This would have been less effective without the use of the first person narrative so I am glad that the author decide to use this technique.

The dual alternating timelines is another fundamental technique and one which highlights the effect of sexual abuse later on in life. The impact which Jacob Strane had on Vanessa, even years after finishing school, is tremendous and the way which the author handles this with the introduction of some other characters is noteworthy. I didn’t agree with some of her choices as an adult but upon reflection I believe that this is exactly what the author wanted to emphasise after all the trauma Vanessa experienced as a child.

I struggled a lot with this book but ultimately finished it with the firm idea that, although it is a distressing book to read, it is also a very necessary addition to bring attention to some of the dilemmas in our society. It is technically excellent and emotionally involved which makes its message even more powerful. I wouldn’t recommend it to everyone due to the dark nature of the subject matter but readers who are aware of the triggers and are expecting a raw and profound book will likely not be disappointed.

6 thoughts on “Book review: My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell

  1. Pingback: Mysterious Blogger Award and The Outstanding Blogger Award #2 – paperbacktomes

  2. Fantastic review, Darina! I have been hesitant to read this one because of the detail and subject matter, but it was good to get your thoughts on it. The book definitely seems extremely impactful and well written. You clearly put a lot of consideration into this review, so I really appreciate that!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. “A good book makes you want to reread it. A great book makes you want to reread your own soul.” I have gravitated toward reading this and other great books from late middle age and on. The impactful nature of well written books is well worth any disturbing content. I read “My Dark Vanessa” when It first appeared over a year ago and I still think about it occasionally..

    Liked by 1 person

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