Author(s): Kate Elizabeth Russell
'The book everyone will be talking about' Louise O'Neill 'A package of dynamite' Stephen King
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.
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"Russell has been working on this novel for 18 years, and you can tell how much this time has strengthened the final work. It’s a challenging story she’s chosen to tell—a teenage girl unwittingly entering into an immensely damaging relationship with her teacher, a woman grappling to sustain the love story she’s told herself and made herself believe in order to survive—and I appreciate just how well she has managed to tell it.
In a lot of ways My Dark Vanessa reminded me of Gabriel Tallent’s My Absolute Darling. Both were very hard to read at times, and yet I found it even more difficult to put them down. Both novels explore sexual trauma through a teenage girl’s perspective, however My Dark Vanessa strongly benefits from a second narrative thread set in 2017 when our narrator is in her 30s. This thread leavens the novel and allows the reader some breathing room (this is vital as the sections set in the early 2000s are very intense and could be triggering to some readers) but it also allows the narrator the space to evolve, and the writer the space to deeply explore the experience of trauma and its lasting effects.
My Dark Vanessa is a provocative portrait of sexual and psychological harm, how society enables this harm to come to young women, and how damaging our expectations are of how a victim should act. This is a truly extraordinary novel, one that will generate a lot of conversation in the same vein as Lisa Taddeo’s Three Women."
— Reviewed by our bookseller Kate
A thought-provoking perspectiove that explores power and consent. Timely and gripping -- April