My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell

A powerhouse of a book, My Dark Vanessa explores abuse and manipulation

Book Review by Heather McDaid | 21 Jan 2020
  • My Dark Vanessa
Book title: My Dark Vanessa
Author: Kate Elizabeth Russell

Books are called timely so often it becomes almost flippant. But when it comes to My Dark Vanessa, its timeliness is an impactful one, scrutinising how shifts in social and cultural conversations can force us to revisit and better understand past events.

It’s 2000. 15-year-old Vanessa Wye is (in her eyes) drawn to a kindred spirit in her 42-year-old English teacher Jacob Strane. She is his one and only; she eases his guilt over ‘falling in love’ with a teen.

It’s 2017. The conversation is shifting. A rising wave of allegations brings a long overdue reckoning for abusers. Strane has been accused of sexual assault by a former student. When Vanessa is reached out to, she faces a choice: stand firm in her belief that she willingly engaged in a relationship, or redefine not only some of her most formative events, but herself too.

My Dark Vanessa is troubling but necessary, laying power dynamics and the insidious methods of grooming on full display, and diving into the subsequent decades of psychological manipulation. Scrutinised years later through the lens of the #MeToo movement, Vanessa’s story proves a challenging but compulsive read; no one wants to observe real darkness unravel, but it’s impossible to tear away. Forcing readers to reckon with reality, this is an astounding debut circling power, abuse and manipulation. A powerhouse. 

4th Estate, 31 Mar, £12.99