My Dark Vanessa – Kate Elizabeth Russell

‘A package of dynamite’ Stephen King

An era-defining novel about the relationship between a fifteen-year-old girl and her teacher


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.

Nuanced, uncomfortable, bold and powerful, My Dark Vanessa goes straight to the heart of some of the most complex issues our age.

About the Author:

Kate Elizabeth Russell was born and raised in eastern Maine. She holds an MFA from Indiana University and a PhD from the University of Kansas. My Dark Vanessa is her first novel.

My Review:

Firstly I need to tell you this book is explicit and the subject matters of child grooming and sexual abuse aren’t sugar coated – it’s raw, brutal, disturbing and extremely uncomfortable reading from page one until the end.

My Dark Vanessa is not just dark it’s almost total blackout and readers of a delicate nature should avoid at all costs.

Vanessa is our narrator and doesn’t hold back in her thoughts, feelings and memories.  Now aged 32 years old and barely coping with life, working in a hotel as a concierge and drifting from booze, drugs and meaningless sex she takes us back to her childhood when she attended a prestigious boarding school and at age 15 met and “fell in love” with her English teacher, 45 year old Jacob Strane.

Even through Vanessa’s words the reader is under no illusion that this is 100% predatory child grooming and it’s impossible not to feel sorry for Vanessa and disgust at Strane’s behaviour.  One of Strane’s earlier comments to Vanessa is that he is going to ruin her and there is no doubt he does exactly what he said he would as we watch her life and future fall apart in the hands of this twisted paedophile.

“His hand slips out from under my skirt and he slides like liquid out of his chair and onto the floor.  Kneeling before me, he lays his head on my lap and says, “I’m going to ruin you.”

Whilst all the above is shocking and uncomfortable to read, it’s Vanessa’s refusal to face the truth of who the real victim is especially when several other students come forward accusing Strane of molesting or assaulting them that makes the reader feel the most disturbed.

My Dark Vanessa is a powerful and deeply thought provoking debut novel which will leave a mark on you as a reader and as a human being.  The writing is utterly spellbinding and beautiful and the author has written an exceptional story which will stay in my thoughts for a long time.

Publish date: 23rd January 2020



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