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My Dark Vanessa [Signed Edition] - Kate Elizabeth Russell

My Dark Vanessa [Signed Edition]

By: Kate Elizabeth Russell

Hardcover | 23 March 2020

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A Stylist Best Book of 2020

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

ALL HE DID WAS FALL IN LOVE WITH ME AND THE WORLD TURNED HIM INTO A MONSTER

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.

Staff review by Olivia Fricot

My Dark Vanessa is the extraordinary debut novel by American author Kate Elizabeth Russell that I haven’t been able to get out of my head since I read it back in January. Today, I’m going to try and tell you why.

Vanessa Wye was just 15 years old when she met who she thought was the love of her life: her charismatic 42-year-old high school English teacher, Jacob Strane. He loved the poetry that she wrote and introduced her to the wonder of Sylvia Plath, Edna St. Vincent Millay and Vladimir Nabokov, while drawing her slowly into a sexual relationship she didn’t fully understand.

Vanessa has spent the years since then convinced that Strane’s life and hers were meant to be forever intertwined. But it’s now 2017, and victims of sexual violence are coming forward and naming their abusers, bringing with them a wave of public outcry. To Vanessa’s horror, Strane becomes one of the accused when another student at her old school comes forward with her own allegations against him. Now 32 and barely holding her life together, she is forced to consider the possibility that her life’s great love story might never have been a love story at all – that she is, in fact, the victim of a predator.

In My Dark Vanessa, readers will find a remarkable novel about a young woman in turmoil, written in unflinching prose that dares you to look away. Russell inhabits her main character’s voice with incredible precision, splitting the narrative between Vanessa’s life as a starry-eyed teenager and as a traumatised older woman, and carefully weaving the two threads together. In doing so, the story of Vanessa’s relationship with Strane takes a backseat to that of her own struggle of self-perception. We follow her as she rationalises what is happening to her, initially unable to reconcile her memories with the emerging public conversation around sexual violence and believing herself to be beyond redemption for a crime that no reader would ever convict her of.

It’s this conflict that makes My Dark Vanessa so compelling, and as it develops we become ever more aware that in fiction, as in life, there are no perfect victims. The novel examines what it would mean for Vanessa to see herself as a victim when she (wrongly) feels as much to blame for the relationship as Strane, who refuses to see himself as a predator. As such, this is no Lolita for the 21st century, but the story of one woman who begins to peel back the cover she has thrown over her past in order to live with herself.

My Dark Vanessa was never going to be a quiet novel, and its boldness in confronting the inherent cruelty of a teenage girl being made to feel complicit in her own abuse is to be commended. Its subject matter could have engulfed it, but the power of it lies in its specificity and Russell’s refusal to administer a one-size-fits-all trauma recovery narrative that doesn’t exist. Read it and you’ll discover an intelligent and compassionate exploration of one woman’s attempt to reclaim her life, in her own imperfect way.

About the Author

Kate Elizabeth Russell is originally from eastern Maine. She holds a PhD in creative writing from the University of Kansas and an MFA from Indiana University. Her work has appeared in Hayden's Ferry Review, Mid-American Review, and Quarterly West, among other journals, and has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She currently lives in Madison, Wisconsin. This is her first novel.
Industry Reviews
'A hard story to read and a harder one to put down ... a package of dynamite' – Stephen King

'A remarkable debut, deeply thoughtful, deeply emotional, compelling and disturbing in equal measure' – Karen Joy Fowler, author of We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves

'A brilliant and stunning debut ... utterly truth-rattling, humane in its clarity and chilling in its resonance. An absolute must read' – Gillian Flynn, author of Gone Girl

'Fascinating and devastating and brilliant. I loved it' – Kristen Roupenian, author of You Know You Want This: 'Cat Person' and Other Stories

'Riveting and compulsive, My Dark Vanessa unsettles with every sentence. A novel that asks urgent questions and refuses easy answers' – Elizabeth Day, author of How to Fail

'Unsettling, compulsive and deeply thought provoking. Extremely well done' – Harriet Tyce, author of Blood Orange

'Gripping, dark, prescient and searing in its emotional honesty, My Dark Vanessa is a must read if the year' – Sarah Pinborough, author of Behind Her Eyes and Cross Her Heart

'I can't remember the last time a book hooked me like My Dark Vanessa ... a brilliant, chilling portrait of manipulation and abuse of power' – Jane Casey, author of The Missing and Cruel Acts

'Powerful, compulsive and brilliant ... Such a skilled, terrifying depiction of the grooming of a vulnerable 15-year-old girl by her English teacher. An important book, we should all read it' – Marian Keyes, author of Grown Ups

'A provocative and disturbing exploration of what happens when manipulation feels like love. More than anything else, Russell pushes us to reconsider everything we believe about what a "perfect" victim looks like. Challenging and uncompromising, My Dark Vanessa is the book everyone will be talking about in 2020' – Louise O'Neill, author of Asking For It

'My Dark Vanessa is about story-telling and manipulation and the manipulation of those stories. It is destined to be a hit' – Pandora Sykes

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