“There are things he needs to believe in order to live with himself, and it would be cruel for me to label these as lies.”
Rating: 3.5/5 stars
Exploring the psychological dynamics of the relationship between a precocious yet naïve teenage girl and her magnetic and manipulative teacher, a brilliant, all-consuming read that marks the explosive debut of an extraordinary new writer.
2000. Bright, ambitious, and yearning for adulthood, fifteen-year-old Vanessa Wye becomes entangled in an affair with Jacob Strane, her magnetic and guileful forty-two-year-old English teacher.
2017. Amid the rising wave of allegations against powerful men, a reckoning is coming due. Strane has been accused of sexual abuse by a former student, who reaches out to Vanessa, and now Vanessa suddenly finds herself facing an impossible choice: remain silent, firm in the belief that her teenage self willingly engaged in this relationship, or redefine herself and the events of her past. But how can Vanessa reject her first love, the man who fundamentally transformed her and has been a persistent presence in her life? Is it possible that the man she loved as a teenager—and who professed to worship only her—may be far different from what she has always believed?
Alternating between Vanessa’s present and her past, My Dark Vanessa juxtaposes memory and trauma with the breathless excitement of a teenage girl discovering the power her own body can wield. Thought-provoking and impossible to put down, this is a masterful portrayal of troubled adolescence and its repercussions that raises vital questions about agency, consent, complicity, and victimhood. Written with the haunting intimacy of The Girls and the creeping intensity of Room, My Dark Vanessais an era-defining novel that brilliantly captures and reflects the shifting cultural mores transforming our relationships and society itself.
Please, please, please if you are considering picking this up make sure that you are in an okay headspace. This is without a doubt the DARKEST book I’ve ever read in my life and I honestly debated whether I wanted to review this at all because finding words to discuss this is truly difficult. While part of me wants to try and forget I ever read this, it is also a story that is extremely important. It’s not a happy story from start to finish and it’s not meant to be. It’s real, it’s raw, its so fucking uncomfortable, and unfortunately a reality for many women and men who have been sexually abused, manipulated, and gaslighted by someone who claims to love them.
In short, My Dark Vanessa is the story about a fifteen year old girl who goes away to a boarding school and begins to have a relationship with her forty-two year old English teacher. Initially, Vanessa believes she holds the power between them but as their relationship progresses she slowly starts to understand how out of control she truly is. As a reader it’s very easy from the minute their relationship beings how manipulative and disgusting her teacher is. There were so many parts of this book that physically made me feel ill, whether it be something that Jacob said to Vanessa or the graphic sex scenes between the two of them. I had to put this down on multiple occasions. But all the while I couldn’t stop reading this because I wanted to know so badly if Vanessa would get the justice she deserved.
While I won’t give away the ending, I will say that the writing in this is PHENOMENAL. Even though I did have to put this down multiple times I still managed to finish this is less than 24 hours. The author tells Vanessa’s story in the past and present and I think it worked so well to help create a full picture of how much Vanessa and Jacob’s relationship affected her life, especially since they still had a relationship, however, it was more strained during the “present” part of the book. There are also so many quotes in here that will make you feel like you’ve been punched in the gut. I wish y’all could see how much of this book I have highlighted. I think there is probably more text highlighted than not.
All in all, while this is a very dark, haunting, and hard read I would say that I do recommend this book. That is, if you truly believe it’s something you can handle. This book is definitely not going to be for everyone and that’s totally okay, especially when it comes to a topic like this. But ultimately I think it’s an important and heartbreakingly realistic.
tw: sexual abuse, pedophilia, grooming, fat phobic comments, manipulation, suicide, gaslighting, victim shaming
Until next time,
The Bookish Chick ♥