Compelling and Full of Darkness | Review: My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell

5:03 PM

From a psychological standpoint, this book was bound to be nearly perfect (in a bleak, horrifying kind of way) for me to begin with. And, just like that, My Dark Vanessa compelled me to read on.

My Dark Vanessa
by Kate Elizabeth Russell

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.

My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell 
As always, a copy of this book was provided by the authors in exchange for my honest review. This does not effect my opinion in any way.   

My Dark Vanessa was destined to be a hit for me from the start. Between the praise from my all-time favourite author, Gillian Flynn, and the sharp comparisons to favourite novels such as Emma Cline's breathtaking debut, The Girls, I was nearly instantly keen to lose myself to this intensely woven tale. To begin to describe My Dark Vanessa would be a difficult experience; but the manner in which this story unravels and looks back on girlhood is so deeply hypnotic and enthralling I could scarcely find it in my mind to put to words what it made me feel.

It goes without saying that topics featured in My Dark Vanessa will not be for everybody. As always, I encourage you to read into the trigger warnings that are attached to each novel to decide whether or not the book is for you. Because of this, I will warn you that My Dark Vanessa gets dark and doesn't shy away from discussing sexual assault, psychical and emotional abuse, gaslighting and more. Not everyone can handle this novel, and I want to stress that as much as possible: My Dark Vanessa will not be for everyone.

Yet, for many, this novel will strike a cord.

For me, My Dark Vanessa was exactly the book that I'd hoped it'd be. There were many moments of unease in the narration that made for this book to be a difficult--yet worthwhile--read to stomach. Although the writing is fast paced and easy to slip into in theory, the subject manner makes this novel a story that you likely won't read in one sitting.   

My Dark Vanessa was every bit as remarkable, atmospheric and deeply moving as I'd expected. As it happens, this might be one of the most tense reads I've experienced. It encompasses everything I hope to find in literature and tugs at questions and traumas that women have to face a good chunk of our lives. Indeed, he balance that Kate Elizabeth Russell creates is near perfection in comparison to her counterparts and every page of My Dark Vanessa feels engrossing, honest, brutal and sharp.

And the fact that My Dark Vanessa is only her debut novel sends a jolt of electricity through me knowing that she is only just getting started.

This is truly a stunning debut that has left me reeling with so many emotions. Getting lost in Kate Elizabeth Russell's outstanding and highly compelling prose has been a definite highlight, and I don't say that lightly. The characters felt so unbearably real, I found myself nearly flinching back at varied points in the story, and nodding off in acknowledgement that, yes, this is life. My Dark Vanessa will tug at your consciousness and leave you lost in thought.

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