An instant New York Times and Sunday Times bestseller
'A package of dynamite' Stephen King
‘Powerful, compulsive, brilliant’ Marian Keyes
‘Takes a grip on the reader and never lets go’ Hilary Mantel
An era-defining novel about the relationship between a fifteen-year-old girl and her teacher
ALL HE DID WAS FALL IN LOVE WITH ME AND THE WORLD TURNED HIM INTO A MONSTER
Vanessa Wye was fifteen-years-old when she first had sex with her English teacher.
She is now thirty-two and in the storm of allegations against powerful men in 2017, the teacher, Jacob Strane, has just been accused of sexual abuse by another former student.
Vanessa is horrified by this news, because she is quite certain that the relationship she had with Strane wasn't abuse. It was love. She's sure of that.
Forced to rethink her past, to revisit everything that happened, Vanessa has to redefine the great love story of her life – her great sexual awakening – as rape. Now she must deal with the possibility that she might be a victim, and just one of many.
Nuanced, uncomfortable, bold and powerful, My Dark Vanessa goes straight to the heart of some of the most complex issues of our age.
LONGLISTED FOR THE DYLAN THOMAS PRIZE
‘A hard story to read and a harder one to put down … a package of dynamite’ Stephen King
‘Compulsive. I burned through the first half in such a fever that I lost sleep, I missed meals … a lightning rod’ Washington Post
‘A brilliant and stunning debut … utterly truth-rattling, humane in its clarity and chilling in its resonance. An absolute must-read’ Gillian Flynn, author of Gone Girl
‘A skilled, terrifying depiction of grooming … we should all read it’ Marian Keyes
‘Once in a while, a book comes along that consumes your waking hours, unmoors you from your lived reality, grips the very core of you and doesn’t let go. My Dark Vanessa is that book’ Esquire
‘Clever, unsettling … this novel stands out for its elusiveness, its exceedingly complex, inventive, resourceful examination of harm and power’ New Yorker
‘The #MeToo novel that’s as gripping as any thriller’ Grazia
‘Gripping and unsettling… a bracingly uncompromising book. It will doubtless be devoured with an ache of recognition by large numbers of women. But it really ought to be read by men’ Economist
‘Superb … a book that asks what we have lost and gained in an era that has revolutionised the way we think about sex and power’ Observer
‘Addictively disturbing’ Red Magazine
About the author
Kate Elizabeth Russell is originally from eastern Maine. She holds a PhD in creative writing from the University of Kansas and an MFA from Indiana University. My Dark Vanessa is her first novel.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
We couldn’t stop thinking about Kate Elizabeth Russell’s powerful and deeply disturbing debut. Told from the point of view of its titular heroine, the novel maps two distinct eras of Vanessa’s life. We’re pulled into the thrill and turmoil of 15-year-old Vanessa’s experiences as she embarks on a “romance” with her much older English teacher, Jacob, and grows to feel like he’s the only one who truly understands her. But adult Vanessa is starting to see the story differently, struggling to reconcile the relationship that altered the course of her life with the accusations of other former students who were targeted by Jacob. A palpable feeling of unease pervades Russell’s novel—she does an amazing job of trapping us inside Vanessa’s claustrophobic, traumatised mind. A vitally important read for the #MeToo age, My Dark Vanessa combines visceral detail with thoughtful nuance. Your book club will spend hours discussing this one.
Russell offers readers an introspective narrative that fully captures the complexity and necessity of the #MeToo movement in her powerful debut. In the year 2000, Vanessa Wye is a lonely sophomore at Maine's Browick boarding school. The academically gifted 15-year-old professes not to mind her solitude, especially when her 42-year-old English teacher, Jacob Strane, begins to pay attention to her, remarking on her red hair and fashion sense, and lending her some of his favorite books including Nabokov's Lolita. Almost before Vanessa realizes what's happening, the two have embarked on a sexual relationship, and Vanessa is convinced she's been singled out as someone truly special until, under threat of exposure, their relationship begins to go off the rails. Seventeen years later, Vanessa is still occasionally in contact with Jacob, but their relationship has grown tense, as another former student has gone public about his inappropriate advances. Russell's novel, alternating between past and present, presents a damning indictment of sexual predation, as she starkly elucidates the ways in which abuse robbed Vanessa not only of her childhood but also of her own once-promising future. It also prompts readers to interrogate their own assumptions about victimhood, consent, and agency. This is a frighteningly sharp debut.