Bookreview: My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell

Wow, what a book this is… When I mentioned on my Instagram that I was about to read this book I got warned by quite a few people. That this was definitely not going to be a light read, and they were so right. If you’re looking for a nice feelgood easy to read book you should totally skip this one, because My Dark Vanessa is – as the name also suggests – quite a dark read.

My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell
Published by Fourth Estate on March 10th 2020
372 pages

An era-defining novel about the relationship between a fifteen-year-old girl and her teacher.

Vanessa Wye was fifteen years old when she first had sex with her English teacher.

She is now thirty-two and the teacher, Jacob Strane, has just been accused of sexual abuse by another former student of his. 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. But now, in 2017, in the midst of allegations against powerful men, she is being asked to redefine the great love story of her life – her great sexual awakening – as rape.

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.

When I saw this book scrolling through my Instagram feed, it piqued my interest. And instead of adding it to my ever-growing TBR list, I just decided to get the ebook and start reading. Totally don’t regret that. I definitely enjoyed this book, though I’m not sure ‘enjoy’ is the right word when it comes to this book. Make no mistake, this is a really tough read. It’s about sexual abuse and paedophilia among other subjects. If these subjects may be triggers for you, then please stay clear of this book. If not, definitely read it. It’s a tough read, and it makes you think. We hear about sexual abuse all the time these days, but I’ve never read anything like this before. So it was definitely an interesting read. And to be honest it does break my heart that these things actually happen in real life too. That is also why this book is so important.

It also fits really well in this age of #metoo. I like that the books constantly goes back and forward in time. From when Vanessa was 15 years old, to now. It makes for a really well-rounded story. It really explains well how she felt about it then and how she does now, and what it did to her. Some scenes are very hard to read, very shocking. I was frustrated through a lot of the book, so angry with this man that messed up this girl so bad. All the terrible things that he did and does. And then again the realization that this does happen. It’s horrid!

Now I’ve read some reviews after finishing the book and some people say this book romanticizes paedophilia, and relationships between teachers and they’re students. Well honestly, I think this book does quite the opposite. I thought it painted a picture of a horrible predator, of a school that messes up and of parents that fail their daughter. So I don’t think it romanticizes any of it at all. Since you constantly switch between Vanessa at 15 and Vanessa as a 30-something woman, you can really see how all that happened to her has affected her, messed her up really. It’s a sad sad story, that could have easily been reality.

The one thing that I wasn’t sure about was the ending. It wasn’t really satisfying. But I’m unsure whether that is a good or a bad thing. I guess I’m the type of person that likes a nice ‘all’s well that ends well’ ending to a book. And to be fair, most books are like that. But I guess since this one is so close to reality maybe it’s for the best. The thing is, you get so invested in the story, I really felt for Vanessa and I wanted her to be OK.

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