Review: My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell

This was not a favorite.

My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell

Released March 2020

Source: Library Borrow

Dark Fiction  |  Goodreads  | Bookshop

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.

My 2 Cents for Free!

I finished this book a few days ago and thought I might write a thorough review but I don't want to do that anymore. I just want to erase it from my brain.

Early on the forty-something teacher tells the 15-year-old student Vanessa that "I'm going to ruin your life" and then he does because he's a selfish pedophile. If only she'd believed him and RUN but instead she spends the rest of the book telling herself she's in love with him, even while disgusted by him and making excuses for him when he's accused of doing this to other girls.

I realize many folks had a different reading experience than myself and loved it but this space is mine and I didn't find it powerful or empowering or any of those things. Perhaps because I just read the amazing Three Days in the Pink Tower which deals with rape and IS empowering. I don't know but what I do know is that I thought Vanessa's story was sad and depressing, and frustrating and painful. It was aggravating and tedious and it was way too long. I don’t know why I finished it but I can’t recommend it.

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  1. I fell like I would have the same experience so hard pass.

    Karen @For What It's Worth

  2. Yeah that just seems so wrong

  3. I didn't love this one either. The whole story felt so dark and distasteful. Russell writes well, but wanting to erase this one from your brain? I totally get that! I felt like that, too.

  4. Oh no!! I hope your next read is a better fit! This sounds rough!

  5. Well, I won't be reading this one. Hopefully you have better luck with your next book.


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