My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell

[A brief content warning prior to this book. I am always in favour of content warnings because I am always in favour of making deliberate, conscious decisions about the books you read and engage with. You are in control of literature and not the other way around. Hence this note.

The following review mentions abuse and the book itself concerns an adult-child sexual relationship. Please make good and appropriate choices for your own wellbeing. I found the book genuinely brilliant but also deeply, deeply challenging and I would not be being honest with you if I did not share that].

My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I don’t know how to begin and yet, perhaps, that is the beginning, there. My Dark Vanessa has left me a little in awe of it: Russell’s writing is so sharp, so clean, and so utterly fearless, that I sort of look at this book and don’t know where to begin in describing it. So perhaps there, there, in the sharpness of the language and thought, the way that every inch of this is cut and crafted and so endlessly, endlessly brilliant. What I admire, I think, the most about it, is how Russell engages with power. I think I am increasingly obsessed with understanding power, the threads of it, the expressions of it, and this story is deeply bound up with it.

And maybe now I have said that, maybe now that I have begun this review, I can begin to tell you what this story is about. When she was fifteen years old, Vanessa Wye had sex with her English teacher, Jacob Strane for the very first time. It was not the last. This is one part of the book. The other part is set several years later when another former student accuses Strane of abuse and a journalist has approached Vanessa for her comments on the story. We move back and forward between the two timelines, seeing how the events of one reverberate in the other, how some things are impossible to move on from, how some things were not love, how they were never love, how they were abuse and awful, heartstopping, abuse and always, always that.

This is not an easy book to read nor is it comfortable nor is it anything that ever gives you the easy answer. What it is, however, is brilliant. The writing is next level and every inch of this is full of such clarity, such precision.

Oh I am envious of it, it is so so well done.

View all my reviews

2 thoughts on “My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell

  1. This sounds sensitively done, which is the only responsible way to go about publishing a fiction about such a subject, especially one involving a person in a position of trust and a minor.

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