I have heard about this book from my favorite Booktuber Cindy, she gave it five stars which is rare. I am a picky reader. But Cindy is even pickier. So if she gave it 5 stars it probably was amazing.
So I got myself the book and sat down to read.
And, well I was certainly not disappointed.
Before we start. The subject matter of My Dark Vanessa is not something everyone is comfortable with. So before reading the book or this – though there aren’t any major spoiler here- I would recommend you to make sure that you are comfortable enough to get through it. Consider this a trigger warning.
This is less of a review and more of a little deep drive into My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell. Sorry in advance, for this long rant. If you don’t want to read this then you can check out the shorter 5 line version that I wrote in Goodreads. Just click here to read that one.
With that let’s begin.
- Title: My Dark Vanessa
- Author: Kate Elizabeth Russell
- Genre: Dark, Adult fiction, Thriller, and Sociology.
- Story: 4/5
- Writing Style: 4/5
- Overall: 4.5/5
As a reader, there are few genres that I hardly touch or try not to. The subject that My Dark Vanessa tackles are one of them.
Stories that mirrors reality are both frustrating and sad at the same time.
Even though you know that this is fiction, it still is disheartening how many times things similar to this have happened in real life and we couldn’t do anything about them.
Especially what My Dark Vanessa shows us. Pedophiles are a disease to society. And stories like this are happening. The pattern that is shown in the book is eerily similar to something you might hear on the news.
And from my perspective, that was one of the points the book was trying to make. My Dark Vanessa is like a cold bucket of water thrown at society, at us.
This book shows how society and adults failed to protect this child. How society is shaped in a way where victims are more scared of the conciseness than the ones who commit crimes.
As a subject matter, My Dark Vanessa is both fascinating and disturbing at the same time. It is dark and is very close to reality. It is not fiction. It is real.
But we, most of the time pretend that it doesn’t exist. For this reason in cases like this victim’s sufferers more than the abusers.
The victims always ends up leading a life where they never seemed to fully get out of that abuse. No matter how much they try to change, it still sticks with them. And this book goes on so deep regarding it.
After Vanessa’s encounter with ‘him,’ the life that she leads, mirrors her stage of mind. In the second half of the book, this is shown perfectly with how she is dealing with everyone else or by her actions.
She never seemed to get over him or the bullshit that he put inside her head. She couldn’t overcome it. She understands it but accepting it as what it is, well that is where she is struggling.
“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.”
I wholeheartedly agree with this part of the synopsis as we get a perfect idea of what type of book this is. Strane – the teacher – manipulates her mentally from the getgo. He grooms her to think that what he is doing is not in his control. Everything he is doing is cause that he is so madly in ‘love’ with her that he can’t stop.
It is infuriating when you read this. Because this is exactly how this type of peoples acts. It is never their fault, apparently.
The grooming was so brilliantly done that as I read, I couldn’t stop myself from going ‘Aww” at their interactions. And then you realize that she is 15. And this 42 years old guy targeted this lonely girl and is manipulating her, brainwashing her into thinking what he was doing to her was not something right out of a horror movie but an act of love.
The author showed us how he worked on her, made us realized how 15 year old Vanessa never had a chance from the beginning. She wrote this story in a way that made us reader have enough distance from the characters to understand what was going on but at the same time, we were close enough to helplessly see this kid fall for those words.
It made the book really creepy and brilliant at the same time.
Another part that I really thought was amazingly done was how nothing was spoon feed to the readers. The author showed us how they acted and made us judge it. You decide what you should call it.
In the book again and again we hear Strane say, that he will stop if she says him to stop. But throughout the story whenever she says stop he never does. Instead of stopping he continues it as if this is what she wants him to do. She just doesn’t know it yet.
This quote, in the beginning, foreshadows it all.
“I think we’re very similar, Nessa,” he whispers. “From the way you write, I can tell you’re a dark romantic like me. You like dark things.”
It makes you angry. And you want to punch this shitbag right in the face as you see this 15-year-old lapping up those words, thinking them as real.
“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?”
But Vanessa isn’t stupid. And as you read you understand that clearly. Vanessa understands how his words don’t match up with his action. How Strane continues to say that she is the one in control but she was never given the power. It’s just that Vanessa just doesn’t give a damn about it.
If you think from her perspective, it just clouds your judgment more. You understand why she is thinking like this cause you are seeing how she is being groomed. So it is understandable but at the same time, it is not.
A man continues to tell you that you are the love of his life. That he is risking everything in line just to be with you. As a 15-year-old who is lonely, it made her felt special.
“At least I knew how it felt to be worshiped. He fell at my feet before he even kissed me.”
It gave this whole thing a pass in her mind. Cause this was her first love. Her first everything and she didn’t want it to be a horror story which it was.
And because of this when Strane was being called out by other victims, she continues to defend him. Because she believed or wants to believe that it was love.
“I just really need it to be a love story…because if it isn’t a love story then what is it?”
This quote is kinda heartbreaking. Understanding that what you went through was nothing like what thought it was. It was not the roses that you got but the thrones.
“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.”
The way the book was written and though out makes it hard to stop reading after you start. Kate Elizabeth’s writing is haunting. It leaves a strong imprint on your mind. As a debut novel, it is amazing.
I loved her writing style. It’s not sugar-coated or cliched. She wrote this subject as it is, raw and brutal. She made us reader struggle. Made us swoon when Strane was trying to groom her but didn’t paint that picture in pastel colors. Instead, it was black and red.
The book is divided into two perspectives. One from the teenage Vanessa and another is from adult Vanessa. The first half of the book is absolutely brilliant. The second half, I will say is a bit slower in terms of pacing. But I liked that. Cause it actually gave us a better understanding of this girl who went through such a traumatic experience and was forced to act as if nothing had happened. The adults failed her in more than one way.
I wanted to go more into a few other parts that were brought up alongside. Like journalists using victims and their stories for their own use. And how the #MeToo was later turned click bait articles by the journalists.
But that will be considered a minor spoiler. So….
There is also quite a bit of reference to Lolita here. I heard that Lolita was something that inspired the author for this story. So there is that.
Down below is a small section of Cindy’s review. The reason I am adding this is cause I think this sums up the book well.
Tragic, dark, repulsive, and infuriating, this book dives deep into the complexities of abusive relationships, grooming, and trauma. …. how victimhood is encouraged; the way we minimize trauma in order to cope with it; etc. What encouraged me to bump my rating to 5 stars, ultimately, is the ending and its realism in quietly and slowly learning how to piece yourself back together.
You can click here to read her full review about My Dark Vanessa.
As a story, My Dark Vanessa is really well written. It is captivating and feels real. And it makes me quite interested in what Kate Elizabeth Russell will give us next.
With this, this rant ends. This is the longest post I wrote in here so far. Hope you like reading it. Until next time, happy reading!
ps. you guys can check out my other reviews in Goodreads by clicking here. Also follow us on Instagram and Twitter. Hope you guys support Literary Hana there too!
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