Published by Fourth Estate on March 10, 2020
Genres: Fiction, Literary, Psychological, Women
Buy on Amazon
INSTANT NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
“Russell manages a brutal originality. . . . [an] exceedingly complex, inventive, resourceful examination of harm and power.” —The New York Times Book Review, Editors’ Choice
“To call this book a ‘conversation piece’ or ‘an important book’ feels belittling . . . [it] is so much more than that. It’s a lightning rod. A brilliantly crafted novel.”—The Washington Post
A most anticipated book by The New York Times • USA Today • Entertainment Weekly • Marie Claire • Elle • Harper's Bazaar • Bustle • Newsweek • New York Post • Esquire • Real Simple • The Sunday Times • The Guardian
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 Dark Vanessa. Rumours or truth? Have you inadvertently helped to spread one? Just how much truth is it seeped in them? It’s a tale of disturbing manipulation and sexual abuse. It poses an intriguing narrative on whether home life situations alter our decision making and our ability to see something so inherently dangerous we would speak up. I wanted to love this book so much more than I did, I love dark tales and this should have been like a shot to the jugular – it just felt like it was stretched out beyond the realms of possibility.
Hide all you want, the truth will always find you.
Regardless of my thoughts about the length of the story, it remains without a doubt an extremely powerful and dark story about a thirty-three-year-old woman revaluating the disturbing relationship she shared with her English teacher when she was fifteen. The eerie shadow of the tale has many parallels with the book Lolita, which is mentioned several times within its frightening pages. The very impact of producing this very story to Vanessa was both ulterior motive and predatory. As an adult she is finally looking at the events with fresh eyes and it doesn’t look like the pure love she imagined at the age of fifteen.
My Dark Vanessa gives the reader the ability of hindsight. It is told in dual timelines, during the abuse and after, circa 2017. As a grown adult it is difficult to imagine just how a young girl can fall for a teacher in his thirties. An abuser. A person with a duty of care. A paedophile. Let’s not beat around the bush – this is exactly what he is. A man that is enticed by a teenage girl, a man that knew the boundaries and didn’t give a flying fuck.
He manipulated her. He made her believe she had all the power. The epitome of the word Jailbait. One word from her and there were consequences. She had to keep the secret between the two of them. A girl that was a loner, a girl that was an introvert. It’s almost like he picked a girl such as that. But, wait a minute, she was special, he never felt like this about any other girl? He pulled her in hook, line, and sinker. He showed her love, right? There was no way he was an abuser. No way he was a rapist?
Vanessa was aware what was happening between them was illegal, but Jacob Strane convinced her no-one else came close. The manipulation was complete, and he could get her to do anything for him, even destroy herself for him. My Dark Vanessa was just too damn long. Unfortunately, towards the end I found myself getting bored with the retelling of her life that never seemed to be focussing on any one direction. Her relationship with another boy was meaningless and didn’t amount to anything concrete regarding the overall plot.
The book was a sucker punch to the gut. Abuse has major implications upon a survivor’s entire life if they don’t take steps to process it and deal with it. Vanessa’s life was in ruins from the moment she met Strane. Her life, her career and potential relationships ended up in chaos. Strane was right about one thing…
he lays his head on my lap and says, ‘I’m going to ruin you.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
I’m a writer living in Madison, Wisconsin. My debut novel, My Dark Vanessa, is available now from William Morrow (US), 4th Estate (UK), and will be translated into over twenty-five languages.
Originally from eastern Maine, I earned an MFA from Indiana University and a PhD from the University of Kansas.
you can find me on instagram @kateelizabethrussell
A thoughtful review about a book with a strong message. And yes… teachers are in very privileged positions – which is why they should absolutely NEVER cross that line. Because you’re right – it’s an abuse of power and trust.
Thanks for taking the time to read my review. It was a powerful take on a very harrowing topic.
It certainly sounded like it in your review…
Kathy Lauren Miller
Love your review. I must buy this book!
It’s so good but dark. I hope you enjoy.
This has turned out to be a really hard book for me to read. I stopped at page 147 and haven’t picked it up since then 🙈
Yeah there was moments where i didnt know if i would finish it, not because it was bad but because the scenes made me incredibly mad.
I just started this one!