My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell – Book Review

Title: My Dark Vanessa

Author: Kate Elizabeth Russell

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Fourth Estate

Publication Date: 10th March 2020

Rating: 5/5




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.


This book has been on my radar for months so I was interested to find out if it would live up to it’s advanced praise and it certainly did. My Dark Vanessa is not an easy book to read. It is dark and it is disturbing but it is also essential reading which will leave a lasting indelible impression on it’s readers. The book follows Vanessa both in the past, when she was 15 and had an intimate relationship with her english teacher, Jacob Strane and also in 2017 as a 32 year old woman in the midst of numerous allegations against powerful men and also against Strane himself.

My Dark Vanessa is incredibly complex in the way it portrays Vanessa’s story. I recently read an article in The Guardian featuring the author, Kate Elizabeth Russell and I think it gets straight to the point of what I think is so powerful about this book. Russell talks about not giving in to the pressure to create a ‘likeable victim’ (here is the article if you want to give it a read) which to be honest, Vanessa is not. Vanessa is difficult to warm to, stubborn and generally unsympathetic to abuse victims, all of which makes her character hard to empathise with. But the point is, why does a victim’s personality or likeability make any difference whatsoever to what has been done to her? It’s an interesting question and one I’ve been thinking about a lot since reading this book. I liked that My Dark Vanessa is entirely from Vanessa’s point of view and never crosses into the perpetrator’s psyche. Strane is a detestable man and his manipulation and grooming is so obvious to the reader, but Vanessa’s perspective shows us how insidiously clever men like him are in the way they make it seem like everything is the victim’s choice, assigning them the allusion of agency to lessen their own disgraceful behaviour in their minds. It is so crucial to witness this behaviour in a way that, whilst uncomfortable and anger-inducing, is also so very important.

I could go on and on about how well written and nuanced My Dark Vanessa is but honestly I would just say – read it. It is so current, challenging and deserves a huge amount of praise and attention for starting a very difficult conversation.


I received this e-arc through Netgalley. My review is my own honest opinion. 


11 thoughts on “My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell – Book Review

  1. tbretc says:

    OK, you’ve convinced me I have to read this. I was on the fence because I saw some controversy surrounding it, but this right here got me: “But the point is, why does a victim’s personality or likability make any difference whatsoever to what has been done to her?” Absolutely, it doesn’t. Or it shouldn’t in any case. Great review!

    Liked by 1 person

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