I’ve recently read My Dark Vanessa and it is lingering around. I would advise caution as it contains disturbing content. Though its a very compelling book, it’s also a disturbing piece of psychological fiction. The book is told through past and present day Vanessa Wye as she explores her relationship with her former English teacher Jacob Strane, who began abusing her when she was fifteen and he was forty two. In the present day and now thirty two, and still in contact with Strane, Vanessa is forced to reevaluate their “relationship” as Strane is accused by other girls of abuse as part of the growing me-too movement.
I’d like to add that until I was over halfway through this book, I wasn’t aware of the controversy surrounding the alleged plagiarism (relating to Wendy Oritz’s Excavation). The below article from Slate highlights it here; I believe there is still work to be done about amplifying other voices in publishing, and the fact My Dark Vanessa is a work of fiction receiving a seven figure book deal and huge publicity doesn’t sit that rightly with me.
So, on to the story. There is no other word for it. Strane is most certainly a pedophile and this is not a love story, even though Vanessa herself says she needs it to be. At times, Vanessa is both a frustrating and unreliable narrator, she is blinded by the abuse from Strane and he really does a number on her. By the middle of the book, Vanessa in her early twenties reads the same as present day Vanessa, which I believe might be intentional as she just can’t move on or let herself get past Strane. It’s upsetting because you can tell she does not want this, but it’s as if she craves or needs the attention. And it’s all very messed up and disturbing in how the characters tend to romanticise this abuse. The book does romanticise Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita a little too much. It includes a number of references throughout. I have read some of Lolita a long time ago, but other readers may not have, and one shouldn’t have to have read one book to get a full insight of another.
I disagree with some reviews I have read that say the book is too long, as I felt the length was ok. The ending may have felt slightly rushed, but there is no real ending, and I guess that’s the point – recovery has no time scale.
Whilst it was a welcome change of pace and style from my most recent reads, it’s quite graphic in places, and overall, I guess just really sad. I wouldn’t use the word recommend or enjoyable, but if you can handle this kind of content, then it’s not a bad read.
Content Warning: So much… but includes; Pedophilia, Sexual Abuse, Child Abuse, Grooming, Gaslighting, Drugs
Support and further info;
Me Too Movement – https://metoomvmt.org/
Links to support and help – https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/guides-to-support-and-services/abuse/sexual-abuse/