Greetings, readers! My name is Sareeta Domingo, and I’m an author and fiction editor. It’s my great pleasure to be bringing you a Book of the Week, each week here on Morning Mari.
It’s an unfortunate truth that although we’re in the midst of Women’s History Month, the last couple of weeks in the UK news cycle have highlighted many of the vulnerabilities faced by women even in modern day society. That is in many ways the subject of my Book of the Week selection this week—Kate Elizabeth Russell’s powerful novel My Dark Vanessa.
The book centres on Vanessa Wyes, who at fifteen years of age is groomed into an abusive sexual relationship with her middle-aged teacher, Jacob Strane, while at a prestigious boarding school. We see how the impact of this interaction has a lasting impact on Vanessa throughout her later teen years and into her twenties.
Through unflinching, immersive narrative, Russell builds an all-too-believable portrait of a girl whose vulnerability and intelligence is preyed upon by a man who manipulates her into believing she may even be responsible for the situation in which she finds herself. The story is at many turns difficult to read, but is also a mark of the author’s skill at creating a complicated portrait of her central character. As we move between Vanessa’s teenage years, and into her adulthood, we’re willing her to understand the reality of how she’s been mentally and physically controlled, and to find a cathartic release from the emotional prison in which she’s been trapped.
My Dark Vanessa is certainly not a book that could be classed as a light read, but it’s genuinely compelling and really draws you in. We’re able to understand—even if Vanessa initially can’t see it—how the predatory behaviour of men like the character of Jacob Strane can be facilitated by those around him, and how damaging that behaviour can be. But ultimately, we’re also introduced to a realistic, three-dimensional young woman through whose character we are able to find some rays of hope. It’s a powerful, often shocking, but hugely gripping read, and one that I highly recommend. That is why My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell is my Book of the Week, this week.