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Book Review: My Dark Vanessa

My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell

An embarrassingly uninformed woman contradicts common sense and shows how not to be a human being as she resists how reputations of previously unassailable figures look grubbier, smaller and seedier. This is a good if deeply frustrating propulsive read. This is a tale of abuse – when she was 15, Vanessa had an affair with Mr Strane, the English teacher at her boarding school.


Now she is 32 and a trainwreck mess with a drug and alchol problem but she still insists it was love, she still chases after Strane, lets him advise her diasastrously and she worships his psychopathic grandosity. When Strane is MeTooed – she calls it a victimisation narrative and supports the liar, leerer, creep and his coercion.


Vanessa appalls people with her idiocy and dumbness, she is terrible to her parents and adores Strane nodding sagely and making rigorous arguments about how all this is her fault. Vanessa ignores Strane's particular cruelty and her forced exile from her school. At the school loyalty was shown by senior figures not to victims but to the perpetrator. People protected the reputation of the school above the children within it. Vanessa feels huge anger at how Strane has been 'wronged' and ignores all red flags, warning signs and moral standards.


Strane has his good name in place and no attention is paid to the protection of the vulnerable. The school has clear mismanagement and a gross failure to respond to the risk of a knwon abuser being consistently not held to account. Vanessa holds Strane in high regard despite being warned countless times. She's ill-served and plagued by mishap and error. She threw away her future because of Strane and engages in risky acts.


Inevitably Vanessa is devastated by Strane over and over again. Vanessa engages in self abasement in chillingly low key fashion. There are wilful misunderstandings, earnest wishful thinking, Vanessa misinterpreting others intentions and this wasn't the book I expected it to be. It's an unflinching account of how Vanessa misreads a fundamentally formative experience. Vanessa felt very adored and one feels unceasing rage at her wilful blindness to Strane's diabolic purpose.


There are moral choices and Vanessa's 'love' costs her friends, family, allegiances and her coul. Strane finally stirs up negative press and Vanessa has to question how she built her world around Strane. Vanessa is not a good person and there is inevitable fallout as Vanessa asks questions about the conniving Strane and how her life has gone horribly horribly wrong. Vanessa is unsatisfactory, selfish, demanding and dreadful and aimless.


Discomfort is a given for her and embarrassment inevitable. Vanessa bought into the immensely influential Strane with near religious devotion and his powerful nonsence about his 'unwavering honesty' about where he wants to put it and the urgency with which he needs to do so. She ignores gaslighting and fierce pressure and the extraordinary amount of trauma and suffering she's brought down on herself.


Strane can only respond to threats and rewards. He did something terrible to Vanessa and is rough and ruthless and left her in terrible isolation with his betrayal. Vanessa lives in a dark and duplicitous world in this novel shows morally unaccpetable goings on and a dire, seriously dysfunctional woman. Vanessa is absolutely awful and her life is horrifcally upsetting and she's a chronic failure who has largely lost her purpose, thrown her potential away and has wilful detachment – the ending is sadly inevitable. All Vanessa's perceived certainties shatter – but you just do not care.


Best Lines:

“That's not what we are.”


“These are things he needs to believe in order to live with himself, and it would be cruel for me to label these as lies.”


“Reassurance he's not alone.”


“All gratitude and adoration.”


“Gathering of feeling.”


“You needing attention and sympathy.”


“Some questions he asks me are normal and some are tests.”


“I'm lucky to have this, to be so loved.”


“You're always mad at me, and I really don't understand what I did to deserve it.”


“Shame and fear, a voice urging me to run.”


“Misinterpretation of innocent favoritism.”


“Conscious of optics.”


“She's angry about something.”


“A blatant system of power and worth in which some people matter more than others,”


“One long trail of wreckage leading directly back to my decision to tell.”


“Offer myself to wolves.”


“Face the consequences and do our best to live through them.”


“It's not like you have any goddamn friends.”


“Rumors, rants and hand-wringing.”


“I don't know what any of this is.”


“Nerd beer.”


“Don't have it in me to play the doe-eyed girl from the sticks, awed at a glimpse of the high-class world.”


“Precautions dictated by Strane that I've followed for so long, I do them without thinking.”


“He knows everything about me, everything I've ever been and will be.”


“You know what you're capable of.”


“Everyone assumes the worst about me.”


“Still living with the consequences of loving you.”


“Was it all worth this?”


“There's no path back from it.”


“Stick to that loyalty forever.”


“The power you hold over my life is immense.”


“Kind of girl who attracts drama.”


“The deceit that requires,”


“Man of integrity.”


“Pursed-lip disappointment in me.”


“To please stop crying and listen to him.”


“Allowing him to lecture me and on what's true.”


“I don't even know what I'm supposed to have done.”


“What do you think I'm capable of?”


“Nothing to do but think about me.”


“His death is her doing;”


“Everything wrong with me originated with you.”


“Trying to find this supposed potential.”


“I know how they'd look to a normal person,”


“Worry never leads to anything good.”


“Sensed what was coming for me even then.”


“Live uninterrupted in the filth of her past.”


“Can no longer pretend there's a chance this will fix itself.”


“My parents stop locking the cordless phone in their bedroom every night.”


“He was clearly going to murder you.”


“Imagine the ruin that could come to him,”


“Scrotal support.”


“Stop saying my name as though you know me-”


“Knowing exactly what I wanted, what I was.”


“Exactly the kind of girls my parents want me to be friends with-”


“It's a detail I've trotted out before, but always meant as evidence of his uncontrollable love for me, but saying it now, I hear it as she does, as anyone would – deluded and dangerous.”


“His whole life descended into hell because of me.”


“Drunken fishermen get into knife fights.”


“The life ruiner.”

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