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ARC Book Review: ‘My Dark Vanessa’ by Kate Elizabeth Russell

Title: My Dark Vanessa

Author: Kate Elizabeth Russell

Lenght: 384 pages

Publisher: 4th Estate Books

With so much hype surrounding this book, I was so lucky to get myself an early copy and I couldn’t wait to read this polarising book.

Synopsis: Vanessa Wye was fifteen years old when she first had sex with her English teacher. She is now thirty-two and the teacher, Jacob Strane, has just been accused of sexual abuse by another former student of his. Vanessa is horrified by this news, because she is quite certain that the relationship she had with Stane wasn’t abuse. It was love. She’s sure of that. But now, in 2017, in the midst of allegations against powerful men, she is being asked to redefine the great love story of her life – her great sexual awakening – as rape.

I’m going to start by saying it’s taken me a long time to write this review. A really long time. I’ve also written this sometime after I read it. I had to sit with my thoughts for a while and let myself realise just what an impact this book had on me. My Dark Vanessa is the kind of book that will have a massive impact on anyone that reads it. It just will. It’s that powerful and visceral.

In this book we follow Vanessa, who at the age of 15 begins a love affair with her English teacher, but as time goes on and more allegations come out about him, she begins to question whether it was love at all.

Here’s what so interesting about this book, it takes a different approach to the situation. We of course as a reader know it’s totally wrong, it’s not love, it’s abuse. But to follow Vanessa as she comes to realise this herself is both heartbreaking, and powerful moment. And it’s handled by Kate Elizabeth Russel brilliantly, it’s somehow delicate yet firm. You’ll immediately feel for Vanessa. As the ‘relationship’ carries on can feel her slipping away. You can feel the effect this trauma is having on her and she doesn’t even realise it. It’s undeniably sad.

Never have I read a book that captures so perfectly what it’s trying to say. Whilst reading it, I just knew the clear message Kate was trying to get across. It’s shines another light on these horrible situations. This book did have some very uncomfortable scenes in, there’s a scene where Vanessa and her English teacher are on the phone, and he says something and you instantly know, as the reader what this book is really trying to say. Powerful.

This is Kate Elizabeth Russell’s debut novel and all I can say is wow. To take a situation that is so complex, especially in these times, and to make this book as nuanced and uncomfortable must have been incredibly hard, but Kate’s created a master of a novel. It’s everything you need this book to be, its challenging, thought provoking and exceptional.

There’s been a lot of hype around this book, and it’s totally worth it. I couldn’t put it down. I promise you, you’ll never forget this book.

I was lucky enough to receive this book at the 4th Estate Live event back in November (click here to find out about the other books I received). This one is out now. Don’t miss it.

Until the next review

JTH

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