My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell

my dark vanessa

The novel everyone seems to be reading.

My Dark Vanessa tells the story of Vanessa Wye, who had a sexual relationship with her English teacher when she was fifteen. Now thirty-two, he has been accused of sexual abuse by another former student of his, but in her eyes, it wasn’t abuse, it was love.

This novel is essential reading in the age of post-#MeToo. Impeccably written, the novel delves into the ins and outs of their relationship as Vanessa struggles to align her memories with the world around her, and what people are saying now. I don’t want to go too much into the plot, as I feel it is a wonderful tightrope that should be experienced as is.

However, as a fan of Nabokov, I wanted to say a few things. Lolita appears throughout the book – Strane gives her the novel to read at the start of their relationship, and whilst many novels (and plays and other media) have tried to give voice to Lolita’s side, this is the first, in my opinion, to really do that. And why this works over the others is the contradictions, the unreliability of Strane and Vanessa – journeying through memories that you are unsure how you feel about, and tellingly the title, My Dark Vanessa, is a Nabokov quote, not from Lolita, but from his other masterpiece, Pale Fire. In it, a long poem by John Shade (who shares his initials with Jacob Strane), is explicated in commentary and footnotes by Charles Kinbote who has built up a fantasy about what is happening that begins to crumble around him, much like Vanessa’s does.

Essential, and often very uncomfortable, reading. Highly recommended.

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You can reserve a copy online at South Dublin Libraries’ catalogue here.

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