My Dark Vanessa

My Dark Vanessa

A Novel

Book - 2020
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"Russell manages a brutal originality. . . . [an] exceedingly complex, inventive, resourceful examination of harm and power." --The New York Times Book Review, Editors' Choice

"To call this book a 'conversation piece' or 'an important book' feels belittling . . . [it] is so much more than that. It's a lightning rod. A brilliantly crafted novel."--The Washington Post

A most anticipated book by The New York Times * USA Today * Entertainment Weekly * Marie Claire * Elle * Harper's Bazaar * Bustle * Newsweek * New York Post * Esquire * Real Simple * The Sunday Times * The Guardian

Exploring the psychological dynamics of the relationship between a precocious yet naïve teenage girl and her magnetic and manipulative teacher, a brilliant, all-consuming read that marks the explosive debut of an extraordinary new writer.

2000. Bright, ambitious, and yearning for adulthood, fifteen-year-old Vanessa Wye becomes entangled in an affair with Jacob Strane, her magnetic and guileful forty-two-year-old English teacher.

2017. Amid the rising wave of allegations against powerful men, a reckoning is coming due. Strane has been accused of sexual abuse by a former student, who reaches out to Vanessa, and now Vanessa suddenly finds herself facing an impossible choice: remain silent, firm in the belief that her teenage self willingly engaged in this relationship, or redefine herself and the events of her past. But how can Vanessa reject her first love, the man who fundamentally transformed her and has been a persistent presence in her life? Is it possible that the man she loved as a teenager--and who professed to worship only her--may be far different from what she has always believed?

Alternating between Vanessa's present and her past, My Dark Vanessa juxtaposes memory and trauma with the breathless excitement of a teenage girl discovering the power her own body can wield. Thought-provoking and impossible to put down, this is a masterful portrayal of troubled adolescence and its repercussions that raises vital questions about agency, consent, complicity, and victimhood. Written with the haunting intimacy of The Girls and the creeping intensity of Room, My Dark Vanessa is an era-defining novel that brilliantly captures and reflects the shifting cultural mores transforming our relationships and society itself.

Publisher: New York, N.Y. :, William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers,, [2020]
Edition: First edition.
ISBN: 9780062941503
Branch Call Number: FIC RUSS
Characteristics: 372 pages ; 24 cm


From the critics

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Oct 03, 2020

Nothing much can be added to the earlier comments. A difficult study of a girl/woman destroyed. A coming of age story, but greatly delayed and never quite coming of age. And almost a DIY guide to grooming. I appreciated the conclusion of the novel, because the lack of closure is so essential to this crime.

Sep 29, 2020

I just finished this novel. I have to say that Vanessa is 15--and 15 is an interesting age for girls--on one hand you might think you're more mature than you are but there is also the other hand where the child comes out. You aren't emotionally mature enough to handle any of what you think you are, and you are so very vulnerable. This is a big part of Vanessa and why she's easy prey, but is confused as to whether she's actually prey or powerful. Even years later, she's stunted and trapped in the mindset (and manipulated mind) of her 15 year old self.

Sep 24, 2020

When "Me too" ride the wave,
where few dig deep,
a suspense of 17 years, deprave
a Vanessa, dark and brave.

Characters construction from a single point of view throughout, works well and honest, esp. on Strane and Henry. The closure is a bit weak, sensed an inclination to conform (or why not?).

Sep 24, 2020

This disturbing story doesn't feel at all like fiction

Reviewed in the United States on September 22, 2020

I read MY DARK VANESSA all the way through without a single tear, and after I read the last line, I cried and cried. That has never happened to me before, but somehow seems appropriate as this book seems to take a toll on you dragging you deeper and deeper into the enormity of Vanessa's deeply troubled life and the the way in which her experiences have etched themselves into her soul.

This is a very dark and different book that took 18 years to write. The author,, Kate Russell, insists it is fictional, but it sure doesnt feel that way.

I have never read LOLITA, but it played such a large part in Vanessa's story, now it seems important that I know the whole story. Vanessa very much identifies with Lolita, stemming from her very disturbing relationship with a man 30 years her senior, who is also her teacher. She was 15 when it began.

This book is complicated, and simple. It has very few character's, and only one of them, Vanessa herself, do we get to know intimately. She is the storyteller. Because she never understands herself fully, the reader is left to explain her, in ways that will surely be wildly different, depending upon their own experiences and traumas.

It is hard to make a judgement call on the question of rape. Vanessa never feels that she was a non consensual partner in the relationship. She doesn't want to be a victim and yet clearly, she was not mature enough at the age of 15 to know the repercussions of her actions. That explains why consent doesn't apply to a 15 year old and why grooming is used to make a victim feel like a willing participant.

And when that illicit relationship continues for the duration of your twenties? When both are now adults and claim to love each other? Guess what? The secrecy of the early illicit nature of the relationship, sends shock waves out to the future, continuing to wreak havoc on the lives of both teacher anf student.

It is a powerful powerful story. I can't imagine ever forgetting it. It is also something that is hard to like, perhaps because if you are female you can find similar parallels in your own experiences, and if not, you surely know someone who can. It is all so unsavory, feeling disturbing and wrong enough to make me feel that "ick" factor, like when something leaves a bad taste in your mouth.

This disturbing story doesn't feel at all like fiction.

Sep 07, 2020

This book has an amazing amount of "staying power". It's hard to believe this is her first novel! The writing, characters and scenes are etched masterfully. I was immersed for the entire book. I can see why she took 18 years on it. Highly recommended.

Aug 20, 2020

This is a solid four star book. A compelling read, I kept wanting to read it even though it was dark and creepy. I read it with my book club, and it is an excellent choice for a book club discussion. A lot of disturbing content that will leave you infuriated. I told a friend of mine that it is the kind of book that you need to discuss with others afterwards to cleanse your soul.
Well-constructed, it flowed seamlessly from young Vanessa to current day.

Aug 03, 2020

This is a very disturbing and engrossing book. It is the first "fiction" book that I ever read that had a disclaimer from the author that this is NOT her story, but a work of fiction. Any time that I had available, I had to be reading this book until the end. It is disturbing because Vanessa cannot admit--even to herself--what has happened to her despite so much evidence and input from others. The author portrays very authentically how the predator "grooms" his young victims. I have been acquainted with people who have been in variations of this predicament, so reading this book brought back the memory of their experiences. My heart hurts for them.

Jul 12, 2020

This is a very thought provoking first novel by this talented author. It was a deeply emotional and disturbing story that will not soon leave my mind. This would be a good discussion for book clubs.

Jul 07, 2020

I echo everyone's comment that this book is a difficult one. Personally I read it pretty quickly, over 2 days, but it was a bit of emotional torture all the way through. The subject matter is just so very heart wrenching. And I think for women... I mean, not all of us have gone through this exact scenario, but I think we can all relate to at least one relationship in our life times with an older male, which may not have even become sexual, but was haunted by the specter of it. I dunno, that may not make sense. But some things hit too close to home. Anyway, I have a hard time saying I 'liked' this book... but it is well written and clearly leaves a mark on all who read it.

AshleyF2008 Jun 14, 2020

Trigger warnings abound. Please take note of that.
I'm going to second a lot of other comments and say this book was hard to read. When I first started, I almost wanted to stop immediately because it's a tough topic and there is no closure possible, not really. The honest writing-style which did not pull back from Vanessa and her struggles and flaws, and just a little piece of hope that Vanessa would find a way out, kept me reading. The author builds Vanessa, both present and past, with such care that its easy to see the manipulation Strane uses to rope her in continuously, but it's also NOT easy to find an escape for the dependence she has on him to define her and their relationship.
I do wish more about her relationship with her parents and about the Vanessa before Strane was in the book so the reader could have a better sense of the before and after of her story.

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