“I can’t lose the thing I’ve held onto for so long… I just really need it to be a love story, you know? I really, really need it to be that.”
Published in 2020, My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell follows the story of Vanessa Wye who 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 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.
My Dark Vanessa is a powerful but chilling story. Even just the thought of this book hits hard. You’ll know from the synopsis whether this is a subject matter that you want to experience or not. And of course it’s an uncomfortable read. But it’s also so important for stories like this to be shared. Because not every victim of abuse sees themself as a victim, and so many other stories that I’ve read about this subject neglect to consider that.
There are certain scenes that are difficult to read, but it wouldn’t have been right for the author to gloss over these parts just to make it easier for the reader. Instead, giving us the full picture allows us to see the tormenting conflict that someone going through abuse has experienced. It may seem painfully obvious from the outside that this situation definitely isn’t right, but that won’t be the case to someone who has been gaslighted into thinking that this is what they wanted.
I’m not sure of the author’s personal experiences but I think KER explores Vanessa’s situation and thought processes brilliantly. And with how long it took the author to complete this book, it’s obvious she put a lot of research and thought into how she wanted to tell it.
My Dark Vanessa is definitely a book that you need to be in the right mindset for, but I think it’s a crucial one at the same time.