My Dark Vanessa

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Member Reviews

Many thanks to 4th Estate and Net Galley for an ARC of this book in exchange for a review.  
This is a dark book, which of course the title does indicate, it’s a little disturbing and difficult to read in places, but as a reader I was drawn in to the story about 15 year old Vanessa and her English teacher,  42 year old Jacob Strane and their affair which continued until she was 21. 
He tells her from the beginning “I am going to ruin you”. 
Vanessa tells her story so vividly, she doesn’t see herself as a victim., she is grateful for his attention and love, but she definitely is a victim  Her teacher lured her in to his web of darkness, stole her innocence.   So many emotions while I was reading  this book, anger towards Jacob Strane and the headmistress at the boarding school, he lured her in towards himself but the headmistress didn’t investigate enough when a concerned father reported his concerns.  
Other girls come forward and accuse him but Vanessa refuses to believe them, she believes Jacob and herself belong together and that he only has eyes for her. 
Even though it’s a disturbing read, I would recommend it and it is extremely well written, would be an excellent  choice for a book club read as there is a lot of material for group discussion.
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My Dark Vanessa was unlike anything I’ve read before. At times I literally felt sick to my stomach and so angry I could scream. I’ve never read a book that made me so uncomfortable. 

Told from the point of view of Vanessa, a 15 year old girl, who “falls in love” with her 42 year old English teacher, we get a unique insight into her mind and how she doesn’t believe she was abused because they were in love. Despite that it’s also clear, through Vanessa’s narration, that she knew what was happening wasn’t right. She talks about having to believe it was a love story otherwise how could she cope. How he would ask a question but he wasn’t really asking. 

My heart broke for her. She was a scared, young girl, away from home in a new boarding school and he (yes I despised him so much that I’m not even going to use his name) manipulated and abused her. There is no other way to look at it in my opinion and although Vanessa convinced herself that she wanted it and agreed to it, as the reader we know that’s not true.

“I’m nothing, no one, nowhere.”

How incredibly sad and lonely is that. It’s obvious, even before the abuse, Vanessa is depressed and vulnerable. Then he comes along and robs her of so much: her youth, her sexuality, her confidence, her trust. But still she doesn’t see herself as a victim. However when another former student accuses him of sexual abuse she is forced to relook at their relationship and consider if it was indeed rape and abuse. 

As we alternate between various times in Vanessa’s life (15 years old, 22 years old, 32 years old) we see the physical, mental and emotional repercussions of her “love story”. The impact this has had on her whole life. We see how she was let down by so many people. People who should have done something, anything, to stop this abuse from continuing. People who knew something wasn’t right. Her teachers, her classmates, her mum! There were so many opportunities to stop him from continuing to sexually abuse these young girls but instead most people turned a blind eye or chose to believe it wasn’t happening. This all made me so angry!

But feeling so much emotion is testament to the author. The writing was powerful, compelling and engaging. The story disturbing and complex. 

In a time where sexual assault and abuse are covered in the media on an almost daily basis, this story gives you an insight on what it’s like to be at the centre of the storm and how easy it is for men in positions of authority to abuse their power.

It’s not difficult to see why this book has generated so much attention and I’m sure that will only continue to grow once it’s released. One I recommend but please be aware this was a distressing read (trigger warnings for sexual abuse, rape, grooming, mental abuse)

4 stars ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Thank you to the NetGalley and the publisher (4th Estate and William Collins) for providing a copy. All opinions are my own and provided willingly
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Dark and immersive. This book had me hooked early on. This is the dark and disturbing tale of the manipulation a bright and lonely young girl and the ramifications of has in the rest of her life. 

A tale of love (undeserved, coerced, manipulated and terrifying) and loss (of innocence, potential and any real future).

I do feel this book lost it's way at the very end but maybe that is more a reflection on the main character and her own arc.
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Wow, Incredibly powerful and very disturbing and heartbreaking. A gritty story exploring the world of grooming. I’d definitely recommend, it’s not an easy read but a very worthwhile one
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A sensitively written novel about a modern thorny issue of grooming. Shocking. Thank you to NetGalley and the publishers
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This debut novel is one you are going to need to talk about. I think it will be an excellent conversation starter with plenty of different viewpoints; a particularly good choice for Book Clubs. It is based on child abuse. Or is it? There we go; straight away there will be conflicting views. What is child abuse? Can it be called child abuse if both parties are adamant that they are in love? I have very strong views on this subject and they are based on my own experiences and they will never change.
Vanessa Wye is being educated in a boarding school (as I was). She is gifted in the subject of English and her English teacher, Jacob Strane, claims that he has fallen in love with her. She is so flattered by being treated as ‘special’ and to be the subject of such devotion. Her teacher tells her she is beautiful in every way; alluring, incredible and intelligent and that he cannot help himself, so within the blink of an eye they embark on a clandestine physical relationship, using many different excuses to be together and enjoy the fun they have.
Vanessa is convinced it is love. She cannot get enough of him. It is not abuse it is everlasting true love. She sacrifices herself when rumours start circulating, insisting the mumbled accusations are not true. Her life is altered and will never be the same. But he carries on as normal. She is humiliated and has to leave the school but still she sees him secretly and the relationship flourishes.
The novel is loosely written in dual time frame and is not always managed chronologically. I found this aspect very confusing and disturbing. The first thread is about Vanessa as a fifteen-year-old student and the second frame sees her as a thirty-two-year-old mature woman living a chaotic life on minimum pay, struggling to live on her wages, eat, pay the rent and live comfortably like she did as a child. She is a mess: she drinks too much and kids herself that she manages her drug use. Her flat is dirty and neglected; she is still unmarried and still believes that Strane is the great love of her life. But is it true?
She is urged to tell her story, but solidly protects Strane, even when he is accused of abuse by other girls. She feels the knife of hurt and disbelief and believes they were not special like she was. She goes over and over their relationship and in the wake of breaking news she is forced to re-evaluate her previous thoughts. Was it true love or was it indeed rape? That is for you to decide when you have read Vanessa’s story.
I somewhat floundered a few times throughout this novel. It felt like it had more than 386 pages to read. The story was jumping here and there timewise and I found it very difficult to identify with Vanessa. I loathed Jacob Strane and thought he was a manipulative, cunning monster. What he was stuck out like a sore thumb. What was Vanessa thinking? I thought she would wake up. Her promising life as an academic was ruined by him. I would have been so angry with him. In fact I am angry with both of them. The novel has been introduced as ‘The standout debut novel of 2020’ and it may well be. It is thought provoking and very much ‘the novel of our times’. I cannot get it out of my mind.
I received this novel through my membership of NetGalley and from publisher Fourth Estate all in return for an honest review. This is my 3.5* review. All the opinions are my own with no influence from other parties. There are many injustices in life and I felt a great frustration for what Vanessa went through, albeit she didn’t see it that way. She didn’t recognise the nuances and subtleties of Strane’s behaviour and thought she was actually acting appropriately. That is the greatest misunderstanding in Elizabeth Russell’s first novel. It’s a 3.5* review from me.
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Wow. Oh wow.  Thought provoking, uncomfortable, troubling, gripping and completely unputdownable.  

Such a necessary book for our times in its examination of the nature of toxic, predatory relationships. Where the victim is made to believe that they are the responsible for the abuse (mental and physical) they are subjected to.
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I found this book referenced on Must Read lists for 2020 so was pleased to get an advance copy before what I am sure will be an avalanche of praise for a blockbuster debut. My Dark Vanessa was both a pageturner and impossible to finish in one sitting- the subject material and descriptions of sexual abuse are unashamedly raw and honest but Vanessa herself I found hardest to take. 

"...isn’t that what consent is, always being asked what you want? Did I want him to kiss me? Did I want him to touch me? Did I want him to fuck me? Slowly guided into the fire – why is everyone so scared to admit how good that can feel? To be groomed is to be loved, tended to, handled like a precious, delicate thing."

In this book we as readers are confronted with some grim realities about the confusion of childhood sexual assault. Vanessa adopts the persona of Nabokov's nymphet to both normalise and romanticise her situation. Even as her potential crumbles away she denies her own victimhood and most heartbreakingly, that of other women like herself. As she dismisses the groping of a fellow alum as 'not that bad' I was reminded of the many women even in the public eye whose grievances were ignored not because they were invalid but because they had the bad luck not to be raped by penetration. Their claims "not that bad" considering the real monsters walking the world. The author gives us the opportunity to witness and judge for ourselves, throwing into stark terms just how important it is to recognise not just sexual abuse, but smaller abuses of power too.
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This is a phenomenal debut that I found utterly compelling. The story is told purely from the perspective of Vanessa who is recounting the sexual abuse she experienced from her teacher when she was 15 years old. The book explores Vanessa's conflicted feelings about what happened in such a nuanced and authentic way that never feels preachy, or that the author is trying to manipulate your emotions, and the story is all the more powerful because of it. 
Thank you to Netgalley and 4th Estate for the ARC.
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My Dark Vanessa is an incredible book (even more so as it’s a debut). It is uncomfortable. As it should be. The premise is smart but sadly not uncommon - naive 15 year old girl has a relationship with a 40-something year old man, in this case one of her teachers. He is manipulative. She is impressionable and deeply changed by their interactions. Spool forward c.20 years and others come out the woodwork making allegations against the teacher. Told across the 2 timelines, we watch the relationship develop and unfold as society wakes up to power imbalance and sexual predators amidst the #metoo movement. 

I sat on this book for a few weeks as I was a little nervous that it was too soon to fictionalise such events. However this is a must read. It is a book that will make you think and stay with you. Dark and with depth, brilliant characterisations and deftly told, I would highly recommend. A 4.5*

With thanks to Netgalley, 4th Estate and William Collins for an advanced copy in consideration of an honest review.
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Trigger warning, this book contains graphic sexual abuse.

As a school librarian I would recommend this as a modern companion read for the 6th formers who have read Lolita. 

As an adult reader, I found this book both very hard to read (due to the very detailed abuse included) but also very hard to put down due to it's addictive storyline, however shocking that may be. The characters are frustrating but that adds to the readability, and makes you think hard about the experience of victims, abusers and those around them. 

It is certainly unforgettable. 

I'd recommend reading Asking For It by Louise O'Neil next, for a different but again important book about teenage sexual assault.
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My Dark Vanessa is a disturbing, provocative, powerful and stunning debut novel.  The pupil teacher relationship changes subtly.  He's seeks Vanessa's approval, yet he's always the one in control, manipulating.  

The story runs on two timelines – present day when the 'me too' movement emerged, and going back to when Vanessa was boarding at High School at the start of her relationship with Jacob Strane.  

This is not a gratuitous sleazy story.  It is very well written and gets to the crux of grooming (Jacob Strane is a master of grooming). It shows how the process is often misunderstood, misinterpreted that a consenting schoolgirl knows her own mind, is in full control of a situation with a man three times her age.  Her friends knew, the school knew, her mother knew, yet nobody did anything.  And then there's the guilt, Vanessa feels guilt.  This is a masterpiece.
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I have to admit that it took a while for me to get in to this book.  Stories about teenagers groomed by a teacher have been written again and again, so many times, and new allegations are in the news on a regular basis.  It's a tale as old as time, there were at least two cases at my own High School in the 1980s.  But despite my early misgivings about this book it started to draw me in little by  little.  It is, without doubt, very well written, if a little overlong, and almost reads almost like a memoir at times. There is so much more to this incredibly sad story than the initial seduction, and as it progresses the aftereffects are shocking and upsetting for so many people.  A compelling and heartbreaking read, for anyone who has a strong stomach.
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I really really want to give this book a higher rating, but I cannot justify it when it is almost twice as long as it needed to be.

My Dark Vanessa has many powerful moments. It's a discomfiting, horrible story about an adult woman reevaluating the relationship she had with her English teacher when she was a teenager. It is reminiscent of The Tale and, of course, Lolita, which features heavily throughout. Teenage Vanessa reads Lolita as a forbidden romance in which the titular protagonist is a cruel seductress, but adult Vanessa begins to question that reasoning.

The real power of this book is that it allows the reader to see how Vanessa truly falls for her abuser. In the chapters where we relive her teenage years, we are inside her head and experiencing his manipulation firsthand. It is enticing. It makes this lonely girl feel special, intelligent and wanted. She's not stupid; she's heard of rapists and child abusers. But this is why Jacob Strane gets away with it, why many abusers get away with it, because they convince their victims they are the exception to the rule.

And how exciting it is for a young girl to be the exception to the rule! To be the one - and, surely, the only one - that could make a good man stray from the righteous path. We see how well he seduces her into thinking that they are two dark and lonely souls meant for each other in this cruel, cruel world. How could anyone else possibly understand them?

I've almost talked myself into upping my rating by writing this review. But here's the thing: this book should have been a novella. I don't know if there's a specific reason why the author shied away from writing a novella - are they harder to publish? - but this story most certainly is one. After a while, there are long, mind-numbing stretches of boring repetition and superfluous detail. So many things go on for too long. Vanessa's relationship with Henry when she goes to a different school felt, at best, drawn out, at worst it was completely unnecessary.

All of the secondary characters - and there are quite a few - were one-dimensional. Every single one. There was a chunk in the middle that seemed to alternate between Nessa and Strane having revolting sexual encounters and long boring details of Vanessa's school and social life. And for a book that spends so much time turning every detail of her life inside out, it seems to end very abruptly.

But I will return to some positives because I am reluctant to end this review on a negative. I thought it was excellent and very sad how the author showed the long-term effects of the abuse on Vanessa's whole life - her relationships, her career, and her sexuality. It is so heart-wrenching and disturbing when Vanessa catches herself imagining she is a young girl for sexual gratification and wonders if she, too, is a pervert.

I do recommend this book still. I think it has a lot of important things to say and it cut me very deep. It's just a shame that there is so much unnecessary padding.
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As soon as I started reading My Dark Vanessa, I questioned why I had chosen to read it. It’s a subject that I’d usually not even attempt to read as I find it too upsetting, but I’d heard such good things about it, and I was curious. And boy am I glad I read it. It’s an uncomfortable read though. 

An insecure, lonely 15 year old is groomed by her much older teacher, Jacob Strane, and she is led to believe that it’s all on her own terms. She is in control. There are parts of this book that really distressed me, and I had to put the book down. However, I really felt for the main character, Vanessa. Even as a 35 year old woman, her life is still dictated by her relationship with Strane. These scenes where she is older, in a boring job, living in a tiny apartment and drinking too much, really made me see how Strane had ruined her life. She refuses to see it, however. Even when she is seeing a counsellor about the death of her father, she still sees no link between her feelings for Strane and how he affected her life before the death of her father. And when former female students blow the whistle on his abuse, Vanessa refuses to get involved. Strane tells her they’re lying, that they’re fantasists - and she believes him. He continues to control her for years after their sexual relationship ends. 

I think the way that the narrative swapped between present day and the past, showing us how the ‘relationship’ developed, made it all the more stark. Everyone, including the reader, can see the abuse. Everyone except Vanessa. I don’t know what the laws about the age of consent are like in the USA, but I’m pretty certain that if he’d been found out in the UK, he would never have taught again. But of course I could be wrong. 

For me, the end was a relief. I was glad I’d made it through - it was traumatic for me as a reader. 

I’ve given this 5 stars, but I wouldn’t qualify this 5/5 with an “I loved it!” like I often do with my top marked books. I do think that this is an important book though, and to be perfectly honest, it’s beautifully written. 

Many thanks to HarperCollins 4th Estate and NetGalley for my copy of this book to read and review.
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My Dark Vanessa portrayed in real, ugly, and disturbingly graphic detail an abusive relationship spanning seventeen years between Vanessa Wye and Jacob Strane that began when she was 15, and he was her 45 year-old English teacher. 

I cannot emphasise how angry and upsetting the content of this book made me feel. Never has a piece of fiction affected me so much – It tore me apart, and I had to take frequent breaks while reading as I was so overcome. Jacob was repulsive right off the bat, there was never any ambiguity about his intentions, he used inappropriate teachings methods, conduct and boundaries in a classroom setting to lure vulnerable girls, specifically targeting Vanessa because she was naive, innocent, lonely, and isolated. He was a cunning, controlling and manipulative paedophile who abused Vanessa sexually, physically, emotionally, and psychologically, and through back-handed compliments, putdowns, gaslighting, withdrawal of affection, moodiness and jealously warped her into believing that the rape was consensual, and that their relationship was loving and healthy, a false belief Vanessa maintained well into adulthood.

I’ve made it sound really depressing, but it's compelling, insightful and life-altering.. Kate Elizabeth Russell handled distressing subject matter with authenticity, and openness, and I'm amazed this was her debut novel. As horrifying and harrowing as the issues raised in this book were to read about, it’s important to promote awareness of just how calculating and seductive sexual predators can be, and what actions to be suspicious of in adults, particularly those in a position of power such as teachers, and what behavioural indicators to be on the lookout for in children and teenagers. Teacher/student abuse, statutory rape, child grooming, sexual harassment, slut shaming, downside of social media and reporting, victim blaming, and not being believed are all too prevalent in our society, and that is not okay. The events in this story started in 1999, and even though I'd like to believe things would be handled differently in 2020 I feel we still have a long way to go.

The novel shifts between the present and the past, working its way forward. Most of the first 50 percent focused on Vanessa years at boarding school (1999-2001) where she first met Strane and the start of their relationship. As I mentioned, the descriptions of what Vanessa endured were explicit, therefore may be too confronting for some readers – likely even triggering for survivors of abuse, so approach with caution.

An important defining novel, My Dark Vanessa releases 10th March, 2020.

I'd like to thank Netgalley, 4th Estate, and Kate Elizabeth Russell for the e-ARC.
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God, this was a dark and utterly riveting book. 

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 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.

This is no way an easy read, providing a thought provoking portrayal of one of the biggest issues of our time, but at times, I felt like I had to force myself to continue reading. 

Strane is clearly a manipulative abuser, but through Vanessa's first-person narrative, we see that she believes that there may be more to him. It's heart-breaking to witness his utter control and manipulation of her at such a young age. Her relationship with him appears to define her life in such a irrevocably disgusting way. Russell explores the narratives behind the #MeToo movement with clear sensitivity and research, but in a deeply disturbing way that questions Vanessa's own victimhood that unfortunately the modern press may also do. She herself cannot seem to accept that she was a victim, though Strane's gaslighting and rewriting of her memories sure plays a part in that. 

I liked how nothing in this book was particularly clear-cut, showing the reality and messiness of the situation, even to the very end. The writing was superb, extremely compelling and immersive. It tackles how we are complicit as a society in rape culture and asks us to respect the victim and their control over their own narrative. 

Review will be up on my blog on Monday
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You probably know going into this that it's not the easiest read and ... it's really not. The problem tho is, it doesn't feel authentic. It feels like a rehash, pieces have been gathered (and referenced) from all over the place and pushed together without quite matching.

There's some really good stuff in there, the damage done to the main character is clear and obvious and at times screams out from the page even while she's denying it. More of that standard throughout the book would have helped.
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I found this book a hard read,possibly because I have  16 year old daughter,I'm not entirely sure. I did not finish it but do appreciate the arc. Knowing these things happen is extremely thought provoking.
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I have mixed feelings about this book. My Dark Vanessa was brilliantly written. The author was able to show us what was happening and how Vanessa was being groomed without holding our hands and pointing out how his behaviour was bad. She also didn't treat Vanessa like a victim and instead allowed that she made her own choices.

I can't fault the writing or the story for being absorbing because, despite not wanting to, I was engaged and wanted to know the outcome of their behaviours.
The problem was that the subject matter was so distasteful and made me feel so uncomfortable that I really didn't enjoy reading it at all. Several times I wanted to DNF but I felt that it was important to finish the story and find out what happened to them both.
To that end, I found the ending very disappointing as there was no real resolution or character development and I felt it was incomplete.
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