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Book Review: My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell

**Trigger warning – themes of child sexual abuse**

I have never hated a character as much as I hated Strane.

I wanted to smash his smug, manipulative, lecherous, perv face in throughout reading this book. He made my skin crawl, he is without doubt, a c***. I hated him

I know what you’re thinking – say what you really mean Sarah.

My Dark Vanessa is one of the most uncomfortable books I have ever read, it was compulsive, I can’t say I enjoyed it, that isn’t the right for this one and why will become clear.

At 15, friendless and at a posh boarding school, Vanessa Wye starts a relationship with her 40 odd year-old teacher, Jacob Strane.

In 2017, a now 32-year-old Vanessa is forced to reassess everything she thought she knew, you see, Strane has been accused of sexual abuse by whole host of other students…of course he has.

Vanessa’s world is rocked because she’s always been sure that her relationship with him wasn’t abuse, it was love. Forced to rethink everything, she has to deal with the possibility that she might be one of his many, many victims.

My Dark Vanessa is so challenging, it’s nuanced, it’s bold and very, very dark read. It tackles some of the most difficult issues of our society; consent, coercion and what makes someone a victim.

It’s told from Vanessa’s perspective as a lonely teenager and as an adult, still under Strane’s control and only really just beginning to deal with the fall out and the brutal truth that she was groomed and abused.

She isn’t a wholly likeable character, she isn’t warm, she’s a little awkward, she’s quite stand offish. I loved the complexity of her, there are times when you want to shout at her, tell her to wake up because she’s so unwilling to admit the truth despite her knowing and having plenty of moments where she questions her “relationship”.

Seeing her manipulated into taking all the blame, believing that it was her fault they’d started having sex was difficult to read. I’d go as far as saying it was chilling and there were times I had to stop reading.

He was vile. A disgusting specimen that kept on trying to justify his actions, telling himself there was nothing he could do, that she was in control (she wasn’t) and that the boundaries he set were him trying to be ‘good’. When faced with a torrent of allegations, he still doesn’t believe he’s done anything wrong, he repeatedly tells himself “I only touched her”, it’s as though he believes the lies he’s told himself.

He was a predator.

It’ll challenge your perception of a “typical victim”, as it challenges Vanessa’s. She isn’t passive, she isn’t particularly nice. In her mind she can’t be a victim as she was “willing” and she’s constantly reminded by Strane that she was willing. She wasn’t, it was always him pushing, crossing boundaries, and manipulating her. 

My Dark Vanessa comes at a time when #MeToo has raised questions around sex, abuse, and power. This book blurs the lines, not everything is black and white and that’s what makes it a powerful read. It’ll challenge your own preconceptions and views and give you a greater understanding.

It is a bold debut, a hard read and compelling, not a book to relax with after a tough day but that shouldn’t deter you – a five star read.

I’d love to know what others thought of this, lets chat in the comments 🙂

radiosarahc View All

Journalist, writer, traveller, music lover, collector of hats, news addict, bookworm

10 thoughts on “Book Review: My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell Leave a comment

  1. I’ll admit I did skim read this review because I’m reading My Dark Vanessa right now. I’m not too far in, so don’t have MANY thoughts yet but it’s already making me feel a bit uncomfortable. It’s definitely a compelling read and I’m finding it hard to put down!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This books sounds interesting. But since you said it has a lot of disturbing things, I don’t think I will read it. However, it is good that you read this book till the end. I would just abandon a book that has disturbing things in it. Thank you for sharing your review.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. It really sounds like this book delved well into the complexities of predatory grooming and sexual abuse. I think the author made some bold choices and I respect that. I like that there seems to be no romanticism of this (which I’ve seen way too often). I think I would find this hard to read too but it seems like it has a lot to teach. Thanks so much for reviewing this.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Just downloaded it to listen to on Audible. I absolutely love this blog, Sarah. I just listened to Sorrow and Bliss at your recommendation and simply couldn’t stop listening. At last a book reviewer I can trust. I need never be lonely again:)

    Liked by 1 person

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