A dark fiction, sadly based on the true experiences of many women. My Dark Vanessa explores an inappropriate relationship based on power, abuse and manipulation. Vanessa is forced to address her relationship with her teacher, her first love, 17 years down the line and consider the fact that perhaps it wasn’t love, she was just one of many victims after-all.
As if listening to “The Teacher’s Pet”, a true story of teacher – student relationships, wasn’t intense enough for me I immediately picked up ‘My Dark Vanessa’. A fictional documentation along the same theme exploring power, abuse and manipulation.
What’s My Dark Vanessa all about then?
Kate Elizabeth Russell’s debut novel follows the dark and gripping story of Vanessa and Jacob Strane, her English Literature teacher with whom she has an affair at age 15. The story is told from both present day, in 2017, and back in 2000 when she first meets Strane.
The present day story explores Vanessa’s own realisations about her relationship with the teacher as he is accused of sexual abuse by another former student, whilst back in 2000 you learn her version of events as a teenager.
The story highlights some very important topics, the #MeToo movement, the emotional damage to Vanessa as a teenager and how this manifests itself throughout her adulthood, working with and speaking to a psychiatrist and the huge problem with safeguarding at her school. Albeit fictional, it’s all devastatingly common.
What is My Dark Vanessa like to read?
I found it a tough read to begin with. I was haunted by the experiences that Vanessa goes through, and there are plenty of scenes I found very uncomfortable to read. After the first 50 pages or so however I was hooked. Bound by my fascination of the relationship and how it could possible materialise and be kept under wraps at a school.
Vanessa’s account of their first sexual experience made anxious and squeamish. The disconnect she describes, between her mind and body, demonstrates how abnormal the situation really was, yet she seems to be allowing it to happen.
There are plenty of haunting moments like this throughout the book, yet despite its dark themes, it is beautifully written.
My Dark Vanessa review in summary:
I devoured this book and for those you that like an uncomfortable read then this is for you. It’s not your typical ‘thriller’ with twists and turns like ‘The Woman in the Window’ or ‘The Family Upstairs’, but a dark account of a toxic relationship.
Learning about these kind of occurrences through fiction is an important way to open up the conversation and has the potential to enable women who may have had similar experiences feel more confident to speak out.