Friday, 12 February 2021

My Dark Vanessa - Lolita's Older Wiser Sister


Hi Readers! Somehow, I have taken some time out from my week to write 2 reviews, which is quite a remarkable feat, if you ask me. I read My Dark Vanessa last weekend. I picked it up on Saturday & finished it on Sunday. I love to boast about reading books in 2 days, because that’s another remarkable feat for me. I wonder how fellow book bloggers manage their work + reading + writing! While January was amazing reading-wise, I am pretty much struggling this month. I have only read 1 book so far & it is already almost the mid of the month! Anyway, enough anxieties about reading. Let’s move on to the fun aspects of it – book reviews!



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 Vanessa is an era-defining novel that brilliantly captures and reflects the shifting cultural mores transforming our relationships and society itself.


Well, after reading the Goodreads description, I was quite taken by the book & had put it on the forefront of my TBR list. Now that I read the description again after reading the book, it feels even more powerful. It captures the essence of the entire novel in such a holistic way that writing anything after that almost feels like a crime. But, here I am giving it a try anyway.



When I started reading My Dark Vanessa, I was like why am I putting myself through this torture again? Because the story felt exactly like Lolita - a book I hated the most. In fact, in this novel, there's a constant mention of Lolita as if the author is trying to put that fact in our face reminding us the similarities. For those who loved Lolita, they would have loved this too. But those of us who hated Lolita sure would not have had a great time with this one. Having said that, it was definitely an improvement over Lolita, because it was much more than a supposed love story between a pedophile & a child. It steps up only a little, which is why it doesn’t make it much better, but just a tad.


I have a lot to say about Kate Russell’s writing style in My Dark Vanessa. I know this is her debut novel & she has written it quite well given that fact. And, I promise to not make it too harsh.

For psychological fiction, it holds the reader’s attention amazingly well. As I mentioned earlier, I finished the book in 2 days. This was more because of my sheer will to complete it rather than it being a page-turner. The book is 373 pages long. Honestly though it is quite long. I thought that the book as a whole could have been edited a little better. Given the topic, it’s not easy to keep reading about an inappropriate sexual relationship for 373 pages.

Secondly, I have read a lot of books with sensitive topics as are in this one. But, books like A Little Life are simply at another level. In My Dark Vanessa, even though there are so many sensitive topics about trauma, it does not make the reader connect to the characters. Yes, there are moments where I feel helpless & real misery for Vanessa, but those moments wither away quickly. There is no bonding with these characters, which leads me to the next point.


My Dark Vanessa talks about matters that no one wants to read about or talk about or even acknowledge. This novel has both romanticised an unusual inappropriate “relationship” and also pointed out the felonious side of it. In that sense, it has a lot of dimensions. But, what this book misses completely is a likeability quotient.

Yes, the book is important, but the story is so grave that no one can actually say that, “This book is my favourite!” Firstly, maximum people who read it are not going to be able to relate to anything in it, except for minor unimportant things here & there. Secondly, even though it’s an intense story, it does not feel intense at all as a reader. Usually, the intensity of such stories is what bonds the reader to it, but this book does quite the opposite. This brings to the last thing I noticed. I read about these characters – Vanessa & Strane for 373 pages, yet I did not care for them at all. They were both toxic in their own ways, not to mention that the ambiguity surrounding them had taken control of their entire lives. These and many more factors simply make this book unlikable.


Finally, the most important part of the review. This is what sets this book apart from Lolita. It is not only a delusional love story between a 15-year-old girl student & her 42-year old teacher. It talks about more than that. It talks about victimhood in a way I had not read before. It talks about the typical white male supremacy in the US. It talks about the #MeToo movement, which is the crux of the story, I’d say. It talks about the impact of social media & the latest ‘cancel culture’ which can drive people to suicide. It talks of mental health in a much wider angle. It talks about the human nature in its most messed up, chaotic & intense form. This is what sets it apart from Lolita & is also the reason why I gave 2 extra stars to the book.


I think ‘My Dark Vanessa’ was an upgrade from Lolita. It didn’t only focus on the romance & love story of an illicit relationship. It also showed us the after-effects of it, which could not have been written more accurately, especially Vanessa’s life after college & Strane’s life after he was outed by other young girl students. It was difficult to read the romantic relationship for obvious reasons. And, it was difficult to read the after math of it for the right reasons too, because the portrayal was purely a chaos of human emotions. My Dark Vanessa has many dimensions to it with a lot to say, which is why I liked the novel in those areas. But, there are also so many things about the novel which are bland, dreary & unempathetic. Given the positives & negatives of the novel, I have rated it at 3/5 stars. I am curious to know what you thought of the book. Let me know in the comments below!

Until next time,

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