‘It’s just my luck’ he said, ‘that when I finally find a soulmate, she’s fifteen years old’
– My Dark Vanessa
[ About the Book ]
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?
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.
[ My Review ]
My Dark Vanessa, the debut novel by Kate Elizabeth Russell, is due for release in March with 4th Estate. It is described as a book ‘exploring the psychological dynamics of the relationship between a precocious yet naïve teenage girl and her magnetic and manipulative teacher….. brilliantly captures and reflects the shifting cultural mores transforming our relationships and society itself.‘
My Dark Vanessa is an uncomfortable and very unnerving read. In 2000, Vanessa Wye was a student when she crossed paths with Jacob Strane. Vanessa was quite an introverted person with a passion for literature. Jacob Strane was an English teacher who saw something in Vanessa, something beyond her literary skills and sensed a kindred spirit. But Vanessa was fifteen-years old….
Initially their ‘blossoming’ relationship was carried out over books. He gave her a copy of Lolita which Vanessa devoured. A hand placed gently on a knee. a listening ear, shows of gentle affection all woke something in Vanessa. She had few friends. No real experience of relationships. The attention of this forty-two year old man was incomprehensible to Vanessa initially. Why her? What made her so special?
Now it’s 2017 and Vanessa is working in a hotel. Her life, since those days in boarding school, has been erratic and unstable. Vanessa is drinking and taking drugs to survive, to get through each day. When Vanessa receives a message that a case is been taken against Jacob Strane by a student, with an allegation of sexual abuse, Vanessa is unsure how to react. Vanessa was strongly affected by Jacob Strane. Vanessa will not stand up and accuse Jacob Strane of any abuse toward her. Vanessa states that her affair with this man was nothing more than that, a passionate affair between two consenting people. But Vanessa was fifteen-years old….
Vanessa’s life spiraled out of control after she left school. She kept up occasional distant contact with Jacob Strane as she longed for him, his touch, his words, his all encompassing lust for her. Vanessa was blinded to the fact that their relationship was anything unsavoury, anything wrong. Struggling to maintain any semblance of normality in her daily routine, struggling to keep a healthy relationship afloat, Vanessa remains very confused.
Now she looks back over the time she spent with Jacob Strane, from their initial encounter when she was fifteen. She repeatedly convinces herself that she chose Jacob Strane, that her involvement with him was of her own free will. Vanessa had sex with this man and let him seduce her until she craved him, longed for him, let him do with her as he pleased.
There are scenes in this book that turned my stomach, scenes that reviled and sent chills up my spine. I was sickened at the manipulation, the technique used, the words said and the coercive nature of Jacob Strane’s actions. Vanessa recalls what happened but refuses to see the relationship for what it was. Jacob Strane groomed Vanessa. With a chilling creepiness he wanted to protect her and do nothing that made her feel uncomfortable, while he abused her every which way. Jacob Strane completely controlled Vanessa’s thoughts and feeling.
Now in 2017, can Vanessa finally see the truth for what it is? Can she lower the walls and let people help her deal with this shocking trauma in her life? Is Vanessa ready to move on?
My Dark Vanessa is a very relevant book for the society we live in today. The transfer of guilt needs to be lifted off the shoulders of those carrying these deep hurts within.
‘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.’ – My Dark Vanessa (Publisher)
My Dark Vanessa is a very compelling and profound tale. It is a very disturbing and heart-breaking read that will reduce the reader to tears, both of sadness and anger. It is an important book. It is a very powerful book and one that will most definitely remain in the heart and soul of the reader long after the final page is turned.
An incredible tale of control, obsession and manipulation, My Dark Vanessa is a book of our time.
[ Bio ]
A writer living in Madison, Wisconsin Kate Elizabeth Russell’s debut novel, My Dark Vanessa, is forthcoming from William Morrow (US), 4th Estate (UK), and will be translated into over twenty languages.
Originally from eastern Maine, she earned an MFA from Indiana University and a PhD from the University of Kansas.
Website – http://kateelizabethrussell.com/