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4.3 out of 5
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  • At times dark and disturbing

    This is not what I would call an easy read, especially for anyone who has been in an abusive, controlling relationship, there were times I struggled to continue reading. Vanessa is a 32 year old, working as a concierge in a hotel in Portland, Maine. When a story comes out about her former 42 year old English teacher Jacob Strane, a former pupil Taylor Birch, accusing him of abuse and rape. Vanessa doesn’t want to believe this, if she believes it, she can’t handle the truth that she was also a victim. That she was groomed. The story is told in split timelines, Vanessa as she is at 32, and Vanessa as the 15 year old schoolgirl, tells her story of the relationship between her and Strane. As you read of the relationship between Vanessa of Strane it becomes clear he was a clever manipulator, to a young girl, picked purely because she had no friends, no motivation, which through her love of literature, he manages to draw her out and engages her attention, in a number of ways, through poetry and the book Lolita by Nabokov, which becomes a recurring theme, but also becomes Vanessa’s favourite book. Vanessa is vulnerable, perfect prey for Strane, I found this difficult to read at times, sickening, sad but also moving. The hardest part is that she truly believed he loved her, but it’s clear it’s manipulation and control. The way he frightens her to keep her quiet. I struggled reading parts about the descriptions of the relationship as her body goes somewhere her mind doesn’t want to. A real trigger for someone who has experienced abuse. Vanessa has never been able to move on in her life, it has left her unable to have a normal relationship. She is a wreck. As an adult she is unable to cope with the idea that what she had with Strane was traumatising repeated acts of rape, and not the romantic affair she has filed it away in her brain as. But as more and more come forward with stories it becomes clear he has groomed girls for years. Strane is desperate for Vanessa to stay quiet, because it’s all about him, him being ruined, but she is being encouraged by others to take a stand, and encouraged to speak out. This is a brilliantly crafted debut novel, it is definitely not for everyone, as there are some triggers in the book for anyone who has been a victim of abuse, it addresses another issue in the #MeToo era we are currently living in. I would like to thank #netgalley and #FourthEstate for an eARC of this book in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.

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    13 person found this review helpful

    13 people found this review helpful

    13 of 13 people found this review helpful

  • Masterfully Written

    Kate Elizabeth Russell expertly brings together past and present in this disturbingly wonderful story of a relationship between student and teacher. In 2001, Vanessa Wye, a 15-year-old scholarship girl in an elite boarding school, is flattered when English teacher Jacob Strane, 42, pays her special attention. A sexual relationship soon develops and Vanessa finds herself very much in love for the first time. Strane exploits Vanessa’s intelligence and her naïveté, and their not-so-discreet relationship is eventually reported to the headteacher. Vanessa suffers the consequences, while Strane’s career is unaffected. At 32, Vanessa is working as a concierge in a hotel in Portland, Maine, and seeing a therapist to deal with her grief over the loss of her father. When she discovers that another former student at the school, Taylor Birch, has filed a complaint against Strane for sexual misconduct, Vanessa is forced to re-evaluate her love affair with Strane. In a narrative that goes back and forth in time, the reader learns that Strane has continued to be at the forefront of Vanessa's mind. She has invested so much of herself in him over the years that he has become her identity. Vanessa has never seen herself as a victim and has no wish to start doing so now. My Dark Vanessa is an immensely powerful, challenging and thought provoking read. Kate Elizabeth Russell’s character development is masterful, as is her dialogue and I would never have guessed this is a début novel. I have no doubt that My Dark Vanessa will be a bestseller. Very highly recommended, with confidence. I received a complimentary copy of this novel from Fourth Estate via NetGalley at my request, and this review is my own unbiased opinion.

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    6 person found this review helpful

    6 people found this review helpful

    6 of 6 people found this review helpful

  • Uncomfortable yet powerful

    My Dark Vanessa can not at all be described as an enjoyable read, but it is a thought provoking and compelling one. It tells the story of Vanessa and her relationship with her teacher when she was fifteen years old. Rather than playing the victim she truly believes what they had was special. But when other confessions from other girls start to come forward Vanessa realises she might not have been as special or unique as she thought. It’s an interesting viewpoint to give on a very hot topic at the moment in the height of #MeToo. Vanessa’s narrative makes for a hard read as she defends and pines after her abuser. The plot brings up important discussion points on the ideas of rape and the views of society – as well as highlights the failing of the school systems at that point in time. The teacher Strane is a well-developed character – we hear all of his manipulation and justifications through her and as a reader we beg her to see sense and leave him. The book itself changes perspective between flashbacks of the past when Vanessa is fifteen and the present where she is in her thirties and still trying to move on. My only criticism here was in the Kindle edition I read it was a little hard to tell the time jumps as they seemed to occur randomly within chapters which made it a little jolting. Perhaps a heading with the date for each jump or a simple ‘Now’ and ‘Then’ would have helped this out a little. In general, the book also seemed a little too long, although the story was engaging, we could have done with a little less of some sections - particularly towards the end. I felt the ending was a little disappointing – a missed opportunity but perhaps that is what makes the book feel realistic – there is no neat fairy-tale ending to tie it all together. Although emotionally hard to read in places the book is engaging and flowed easily. You are easily drawn to see Vanessa’s point of view and you feel her pain throughout. Some parts of the book are triggering and uncomfortable but that’s to be expected with this subject matter. Overall, My Dark Vanessa is a dark, uncomfortable, powerful and compelling read – just make sure to read the blurb before deciding if it’s for you. Thank you to NetGalley & 4th Estate for the chance to read the ARC in exchange for an honest review.

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    5 person found this review helpful

    5 people found this review helpful

    5 of 6 people found this review helpful

  • Eerie and hard to put down

    This book gripped me in a way few others have. The storyline of attempts to grow from lived experience as a young female was incredibly relateable, and the description of the grip of trauma will stay with me for days.

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    1 person found this review helpful

    1 people found this review helpful

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Almost too much

    This is a dark and thought provoking book which was at times difficult to read. It made me uncomfortable but so pleased I continued on until the end

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    0 person found this review helpful

    0 people found this review helpful

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful

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