Book review

My Dark Vanessa

Kate Elizabeth Russell

In a few words

The tale of Vanessa, a 15 year school girl who is seduced and manipulated by her 42 year old professor and has an ongoing relationship with him that continues for a number of years. Now she is 32, and another student has accused the same man of sexual abuse. Vanessa is forced to confront the reality of her life journey, the abusive relationship they had, and her inability to see it for what it was.

Great for

Those trying to understand more about this difficult yet important topic — not just the sexual abuse itself — but the concepts of consent, power, victimhood, denial and healing.

Why I love this book

IT MADE ME THINK AND IT MADE ME FEEL! This book is indeed dark but it is also vivid, real and compulsive. I could not put it down. My heart ached for Vanessa; not just for the experiences in her teenage years, but for her unhappy adult life and her need to believe that it was love, not abuse.

More than that, the book made me rethink my own attitude to sexual abuse and also the #MeToo movement. I had at times sat in my comfortable middleclass armchair and been impatient and even judgmental about the stream of women that are now speaking about sexual abuse – why had it taken so long to speak out? Is a touch on the arm abuse? I even found myself thinking that “they had a choice”. Now I see how brave these women are. My Dark Vanessa helped me understand how power, manipulation, male dominance and trauma take that choice away.

My one criticism would be

I don't have one, but readers should be aware of the potentially triggering subject.

Kirsty Grant


Kirsty is an ex-BDS staff member who now reviews titles for the catalogue from her home in sunny Nelson. 

Kirsty leans toward grittier, intense reads. She also loves descriptive, immersive writing, losing herself in the sights, sounds, and smells of unfamiliar countries, cultures, history and significant events.

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