#BRPreview Book Review: My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell

My Dark Vanessa…

About the Book:

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 in the storm of allegations against powerful men in 2017, the teacher, Jacob Strane, has just been accused of sexual abuse by another former student.

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.

Forced to rethink her past, to revisit everything that happened, Vanessa has to redefine the great love story of her life – her great sexual awakening – as rape. Now she must deal with the possibility that she might be a victim, and just one of many.

Nuanced, uncomfortable, bold and powerful, My Dark Vanessa goes straight to the heart of some of the most complex issues our age.

My Thoughts:

My Dark Vanessa is a profoundly disturbing narrative of manipulation disguised as love. Beautifully written literary fiction, yet challenging like no other novel I’ve read before. The scenario is provocative, the characters emotionally charged, the content instinctively relevant. Compulsive reading that I can’t help but recommend even if it does journey into territory I’d rather not contemplate. This is not a novel I devoured though, more like a partaking in fits and bursts. Vanessa herself is quite a toxic character, filled with so much self-loathing, and Jacob, well, he was sickening. And of course, the themes are ultimately distressing, so lightly does it in terms of approaching this one.

“I should be used to this by now but it’s still surreal – how he can talk about the books and also about me, and they have no idea. It’s like when he touched me behind his desk while everyone else sat at the table, working on their thesis statements. Things happen right in front of them. It’s like they’re all too ordinary to notice.”


Thanks is extended to HarperCollins Publishers Australia via Better Reading for providing me with a copy of My Dark Vanessa for #BRPreview.

About the Author:

Kate Elizabeth Russell is originally from eastern Maine. She holds a PhD in creative writing from the University of Kansas and an MFA from Indiana University. Her work has appeared in Hayden’s Ferry Review, Mid-American Review, and Quarterly West, among other journals, and has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She currently lives in Madison, Wisconsin. This is her first novel.

My Dark Vanessa
Published by HarperCollins Publishers Australia – Imprint: 4th Estate – GB
Released 1st February 2020

6 thoughts on “#BRPreview Book Review: My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell

    • It’s run by Better Reading through their emails. From time to time they offer early release books for review, but only to the first 80 responders. In exchange for the book, you provide a short review – less than 200 words – by a due date to them via Survey Monkey. Then you share it everywhere using that hashtag. Not all of their offerings appeal to me and I’m often not on the first 80 either. But I got this one, which in the end was a good thing.


  1. I started reading your review thinking this book sounded like the usual male teacher – female student “romantic” trope that has been done to death by English professors who can’t separate their own fantasies from their writing. What an interesting twist, though! I can see how this book would be really hard to write, and even harder to read, but so thought-provoking. I will have to keep an eye out for it.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s