My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell
Vanessa is 15 years old when she first has sex with her 42 year old English teacher, Jacob. He remains a persistent presence in her life and their relationship spans nearly two decades.
In 2017, set amongst the allegations against powerful men, Jacob is accused of sexual abuse by another former student. Vanessa (now 32) is horrified by the news, because she is certain that their relationship wasn’t abuse, “all he did was fall in love with me and the world turned him into a monster.”
Vanessa is forced to revisit everything that happened between them – was it love or something darker? Is it possible that the man she loved and who professed to worship only her, may not be who she believes? Should she remain silent, firm in the belief she was a willing participant or give new meaning to the events of her past? Vanessa soon considers redefining her sexual awakening and the great love story of her life, as rape. She attempts to deal with the probability that she may also be a victim.
My Dark Vanessa expertly explores the haunting dynamic between an ambitious, bright yet naïve teenage girl and her magnetic, manipulative teacher. The novel alternates between Vanessa’s past and present; from traumatic memories, to the excitement of her teenage self, discovering the allure of her body. It explores agency, consent and the repercussions of a troubled adolescence.
My Dark Vanessa will certainly spark wider conversation about the complexity of coercion, trauma and victimhood.
“Sexual abuse is a complicated subject that has a history of being silenced, misunderstood, and oversimplified,” says author Kate Elizabeth Russell, adding that there is no universal experience of sexual violence.
“I do not believe that we should compel victims to share the details of their personal trauma with the public. The decision whether or not to come forward should always be a personal choice,” she says. Her debut novel was inspired by her own experiences with older men as a teenager.
My Dark Vanessa is uncomfortable, but essential reading that reflects our shifting cultural values. Despite the distressing subject, it is incredibly insightful and compelling. There’s no doubt in my mind, that this is a bold and powerful #MeToo era-defining novel! Follow Kate Elizabeth Russell online.
Reviewer: Andrea Molloy HarperCollins, RRP $37.99