Readers review My Dark Vanessa
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a variance on Lolita
It took the author 18 years to write his novel. Who would have know how prescient it would become during the current “Me-Too” crisis. This is a very unsettling novel examining the life of a 15 year old girl who becomes enamored with her 42 year old teacher as he stealthily draws her in to his affections. Everyone can remember this period of “hormones walking on legs”, the insecurities of that age, and for some the deep need for affection and love. Her teacher supplies all those to Vanessa with persistent attempts at grooming her. The author skillfully transitions from the present day to the past constructing the unstable emotions. Painful issues are explored about boundaries, consent, abuse, justice, responsibility, and victimization just to name a few. It is an all consuming read, infested with the ambiguities in scurrilous relationships.
Due to be published in early February, Kate Elizabeth Russell’s My Dark Vanessa seems likely to be a word of mouth winner and book group pick.
My Dark Vanessa is a dark novel indeed. It reads like non-fiction and is not an easy book to review. What I can tell you is that is has haunted me since I finished reading it. The two main characters are Mr. Strange, a teacher, and Vanessa, his fifteen year old student. It begins with a pat on the knee by Strange and a whisper in which he draws Nessa into his web by comparing their similarities. Though a bit shocked she is also intrigued by that hand, his continued sensual stroking, she on the cusp of budding sexuality and the feelings of adulthood this provokes. Sounds so innocent and yet as adults we see the lure, the web he weaves. Vanessa is a vulnerable young woman yet she doesn’t see herself as such. Strange, I hate to dignify him with the Mr., is a groomer, yet he doesn’t see himself as such. Psychologically compelling.
This is a book that I had to read in spurts as it is as dark as dark can be. I much preferred the second half of the book which in a non-linear fashion fully illustrates the psychological damage sexual abuse causes. Vanessa is not a particularly likable character. Her denial is deeply rooted in self-hatred, and therein lies the brilliance of the story—that the reader feels such empathy for a girl, child, who is unable to break away from her abuser even after his death. Would have given 5 stars but the ending seemed abrupt.
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