“I’m not mad at him. I’m mad at them. I’m mad at the world that turned him into a monster when all he did was have the bad luck of falling in love with me.”
Why Did I Read This Book?
I had been waiting to read this book for a long time. I bought a signed edition from an independent bookstore at the start of lockdown and I have been itching to read it ever since. When I saw that it was The Nesters Bookclub book for the month, I thought it was a better time than any to see what the hype was all about.
What Did I Think?
First of all, I struggled with how I would write this review because I personally think it is too difficult to write a review on My Dark Vanessa without going into detail about what happens. So this is your warning…I’ll try and keep it to a minimum but this review may include some spoilers!
I think with any book that is hyped up as much as this one is, you always go into it expecting BIG things. I found the book disturbing at times but as I have read books like this before, I wasn’t as shocked as perhaps others (who maybe hadn’t read anything like this before) were.
I don’t think the word enjoyed works for a book like this. I think the story is one that needs to be heard as it takes a very different approach to the topic of abuse. The story is told from Vanessa’s perspective. We have her narrative from when she was in high school, as well as her narrative from the present day. I think the way the two narratives link is really clever from the author and I really liked how events were subtly introduced in the present day narrative, for it to be explained in detail during the narrative of her younger self.
The abuse story is one that is disturbing and heartbreaking. Kate Elizabeth Russell (KER) is very clever in the way she writes, as throughout the book I am constantly questioning whether it was abuse or rape? There were times when the sex was consensual and there were times when it was not.
As we are reading from Vanessa’s perspective, it is quite easy to believe that she initiated the relationship with her teacher. We see it from her point of view and we witness her way of thinking; that she fantasized over him and took it upon herself to become close to him through her passion for reading and writing. Yet when we think about it, Jacob quite clearly knew that Vanessa had these feelings for him and he used this opportunity and her vulnerability to his advantage, getting what he wanted by making her feel special through providing literature that discussed sex and illicit relationships, such as Lolita. He was obviously giving her all the right signals, whilst ensuring he was covering his back at all times.
As the reader, I felt so confused throughout the book, as sometimes I would wince at some of the things that happened during her affair with Jacob Straine, whereas other times I would debate with myself on whether it was love. Because if it was love then why were there other girls who he had an affair with? Yet if he was a paedophile, then why did he carry on the relationship with Vanessa when she grew older?
The therapy sessions she has are a really good device in helping us understand how Vanessa feels about events now she is older and we get an insight into the impact that her unstable relationship with Jacob has had on her life. With her therapist she discusses some challenging questions about her denial.
She is given the opportunity to speak out about her relationship with Straine to help other women who may have gone through the same thing but as Vanessa does not believe that she was abused, she refuses to speak about her experience publicly. Even when she learns that Straine did the exact same things with all the other girls, she still believes that what she had with him was love and that she was different to all the others. She keeps her secret until the very end, just as she promised.
I’m not sure how I feel about the ending. Personally, I think the first half of the book was much better than the second half and I was left wanting more when I finished the book. Yet after much consideration, I suppose I found some closure from the ending because Vanessa could begin her journey to recovery and subsequently, start living her life.
My Dark Vanessa is a remarkable read that will leave you with so many questions and after finishing it, you will definitely need some time to mull it all over. Honestly, I’m glad I read it but I can’t say that I was as shocked as I hoped I would be. I suppose the hype may have ruined it for me so I’ve certainly learnt my lesson for next time.
(P.S. I’m sorry for the EXTREMELY long review, I just had a lot to say!)