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 for providing me with a copy of My Dark Vanessa for review.

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 23rd March 2020

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