Book Title: My Dark Vanessa
Author: Kate Elizabeth Russell
The title of the book ‘My Dark Vanessa‘ is humane and emotional.
The cover image of the book is the face of a young woman with closed eyes who is in distress. One of the eyes is covered with a butterfly outwardly depicting the story oscillates in different timelines that can be related to a butterfly’s life.
About the author:
Kate Elizabeth Russell is originally from eastern Maine. She holds a Ph.D. in creative writing from the University of Kansas and an MFA from Indiana University. My Dark Vanessa is her first novel.
About the book:
The book everyone will be talking about’ Louise O’Neill ‘a package of dynamite’ Stephen king a stylist best book of 2020 An era-defining novel about the relationship between a fifteen-year-old girl and her teacher all he did was fall in love with me and the world turned him into a monster 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 the 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.
The story is about a 15-year-old girl Vanessa who gets into a relationship with her manipulative teacher. The book talks about the psychological aspects and dynamics between the two.
The story dates back to the year 2000 when a young, naive, ambitious, and beautiful girl Vanessa Wye becomes a bait unknowingly and is in an affair with Jacob Strane, a 5-year-old English teacher. The author explains in detail which some of the readers might find the narration too raw and unacceptable, the incidents and the encounters between Vanessa and Strane.
Now, in the present, i.e. in the year 201, when the #metoo movement occurred, Strane has been accused of sexual abuse by a former student and he reaches out to Vanessa to help him from being charged. This is when Vanessa starts thinking and digs into her past. The story is narrated in the first person, and thus as a reader, everyone travels with Vanessa and feels her every emotion. At this moment, Strane calls her and insists her to think that what happened between them many years ago was on her will and consent. Just after hearing this, Vanessa falls into the confusion trap.
As she starts digging her past, the readers are given information about every activity in detail.
How did she start an affair with Strane, what made her like him, how did he handle her, etc., are explained in a very detailed manner. There are some pages where personally I wanted to skip as they were causing discomfort.
There are many things that the author has focused on while penning down this book. With so much pressure in life handled by a naive teenager, there is every possibility for a reader to breakdown and the same happened with me. While reading I was in parallel thinking about my friend’s sister who was a victim of physical abuse by her brother. This had more effect on me while reading the book. I had to take two breaks in completing the book. For a first time author, this story is a Herculean task and as a woman, I cannot resist myself in applauding the author’s audacity.
Oscillating between Vanessa’s present and her past, My Dark Vanessa showcases a memory and trauma with the pain and innocence of a teenage girl discovering her true power through her femme. The book is a thought-provoking and a perfect page-turner. The book also indirectly talks about a teenager’s problems, the victimhood of sexual predators unknowingly, the haunting memories and how it affects her overall personality as she grows up, her muted feelings, her scary thoughts about her partner, difficulty in maintaining healthy relationships, becoming prey to depression and many such more socio-psychological aspects.
There are books where you either fall in love with the characters or completely hate for their demeanor. But here, in this book, it is really hard to judge whether a character is lovable or likable or to be hated. Such is the complexity of characters and this situation arises because of the previous and subsequent actions of the characters. The character of Vanessa sometimes is likable as a bubbly 15 -year-old and stupid as a 32-year-old whereas, Strane, the professor is demonic but instills a thin line of apologetic personality. The other characters in the story that are introduced have their own stamp in the story.
This book is a memoir of the protagonist Vanessa that swipes between the years 2000 and 2017. The story is narrated in the first person and the protagonist directly talks to the reader. She explains how as a fifteen-year-old she was, how she was trapped or rather viciously captured into her English Professor’s hands who is a 45-year-old man. In the context of the #metoo movement in 2017, another woman claims her professor a sexual predator. This is when Vanessa is caught into confusion if her relationship was real love or was she given an illusion of love to satiate his animal hunger. This kind of different storytelling is found in the book and the narration in a few scenes is just top-notch. Kudos to the author for such a bold, raw, and rustic narration.
Read Also: Book Review: The Rules of Contagion by Adam Kucharski
Language & Grammar:
A very fine language with rich vocabulary is found in the story. t times when the language used in the story emoted the feelings very strongly, it felt hard to believe that this is the author’s first novel.
My Final Verdict:
Disturbing yet an honest story!
Book Title: 4/5
Book Cover: 4/5
Language & Grammar: 4/5
Final Rating: 4/5
(Reviewed by Swapna Peri)