My Dark Vanessa
Kate Elizabeth Russell
Review: Lindiwe Mlandu
My Dark Vanessa is a debut psychological work of fiction which explores abuse and consent.
Vanessa, a lonely teenager at boarding school, was sexually groomed by her 42-year-old English teacher, Jacob Strane, when she was 15 years old. The teacher showed interest in her and slowly started by offering her sexually suggestive books.
The sexual relationship (I’m uncomfortable calling it this because of the power dynamics) lasted for seven years. Jacob dumped her when she was 22 years old.
At the age of 32, she’s forced to confront her past. The #MeToo movement is gaining momentum and some of the victims, who went to her school, start speaking out against the same teacher. They call on Vanessa to share her story as they believe this will strengthen their case.
However, Vanessa is not interested because she doesn’t see herself as a victim. She stubbornly believes what she and Jacob had was special. It’s infuriating how she still defends his indoctrination after all these years. He still calls her to make sure that she won’t break rank and join the accusers.
The book might be triggering to survivors. It questions the #MeToo movement and the expectations that survivors should speak up. What happens if one doesn’t want to speak out? Do survivors owe us their stories?
I struggled with the writer’s portrayal of Vanessa. She focused more on Vanessa being a complex individual than she did on Jacob, who, as an adult, preyed on a teenage girl.