I received this copy from Netgalley in exchange of an honest review and I thank you, 4th Estate and William Collins for accepting my request for this amazing book.
Here’s my review for this amazing book that comes out today!
Before reading it, though, here they are the trigger warnings.
rape, abuse, manipulation, suicide, victim blaming
My dark Vanessa is an intense, heartbreaking and important book. It tells the story of Vanessa, a young woman who was abused by her English teacher at fifteen years old and the aftermath of her rape and their relationship.
The book is built in a peculiar way, swinging from 2001/2002, 2006 and 2017, between past and present, constructing the whole story. We get to know Vanessa as teenager, friendless and lonely in a boarding school, after losing her previous best friend and who finds herself attracted to and coerced by her new teacher, Jacob Strane into a sexual relationship.
Kate Elizabeth Russell wrote about this intense relationship between Vanessa and Strane that spanned years, decades, to the 2017, when a young woman accused Strane of abusing her, pushing and trying to get Vanessa involved. The involment of a journalist threaten to uncover the truth Vanessa is trying to deny and hide to herself.
The relationship between Vanessa and Strane is never romanticized and it’s really complex, because Strane manipulated Vanessa for years, blaming, threating and harassing her, above all when he feared she could tell someone the truth about what happened. The book is astounding and delicate and it’s clearly visible all the aftermath the abuse inflicted on Vanessa, who is in denial and almost until the end she refused to see herself as a victim of rape and to call the abuse rape.
The allegations against Strane in 2017 pushed her to revisit her life and childhood, her relationships with her parents and friends, her loneliness, her depression, and seeing and talking with her terapist and to the young woman who accused Strane helped her see the abuse in a new way.
During all her life, after the abuse, Vanessa is still attached to Strane, convincing herself to believe him, to consider all that as a love story, to having being loved and cherished. For years Vanessa talked and saw Strane, even after the boarding school, all the time him manipulating and using her, in a abusive and suffocating relationship. On point and hard to read her metaphors of being drowned and disconnected from her body, when he abused her.
“I just really need it to be a love story. You know? I really, really need it to be that.”
“I know.” she says.
“Because if it isn’t a love story, then what is it?” […] “It’s my life.” I say. “This has been my whole life”
It’s heartbreaking and interesting reading about Vanessa’s life and process to accept what happened to her and calling its true name, battling against her guilt and shame because she didn’t tell about him, didn’t stop him from hurting other girls. It’s fascinating seeing how Vanessa and Taylor saw the abuse, the first denying it and fooling herself for years, listening to her rapist and refusing to denouncing him and the latter seeing right away the man for what is was and denouncing him to the school, two times. It was difficult for Vanessa, because all her life, for years, Strane became a part of herself, almost infecting her.
“Ruby says it will take a while to truly changed, that I need to give myself a chance to see more of the world without him behind my eyes”
This book is really well written and I was heartbroken in so many parts, raging against Strane, wanting to shake Vanessa and so enraged when the school didn’t believe her, didn’t support Taylor, choosing not to pursue a true investigation, when in 2001 rumours about Strane and Vanessa circulated. It was incredibly frustrating reading about teachers and administration refusing to see the truth and to protect their students.
I will stop now my ranting, because I wanted to write and comment every pages, but I won’t. I’ll just say this book is a gem and it carries so many important message, like the relevance of therapy, of healing, of denouncing.
A solid 5 stars.