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Publisher's Summary

SHORTLISTED FOR THE 2021 DYLAN THOMAS AWARD  

An instant New York Times and Sunday Times best seller.

A Stylist Best Book of 2020.

An era-defining novel about the relationship between a 15-year-old girl and her teacher.

All he did was fall in love with me and the world turned him into a monster.

Vanessa Wye was 15 years old when she first had sex with her English teacher.

She is now 32 and in the storm of allegations against powerful men in 2017, the teacher, Jacob Strane, has just been accused of sexual abuse by another former student.

Vanessa is horrified by this news, because she is quite certain that the relationship she had with Strane wasn't abuse. It was love. She's sure of that.

Forced to rethink her past, to revisit everything that happened, Vanessa has to redefine the great love story of her life - her great sexual awakening - as rape. Now she must deal with the possibility that she might be a victim, and just one of many.

Nuanced, uncomfortable, bold and powerful, My Dark Vanessa goes straight to the heart of some of the most complex issues our age.  

Includes a bonus conversation with Kate Elizabeth Russell, Grace Gummer, and Jessica Williams (editor of My Dark Vanessa). 

©2020 Kate Elizabeth Russell (P)2019 HarperCollins Publishers Limited

Critic Reviews

"The book everyone will be talking about." (Louise O'Neill)

"...a package of dynamite." (Stephen King)

"Compulsive. I burned through the first half in such a fever that I lost sleep, I missed meals...a lightning rod." (Washington Post)

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What listeners say about My Dark Vanessa

Average Customer Ratings
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graphic, sensationised and not helpful

protagonist was still so much under cohoesive control even into thirties. the mental and verbal dialogue was at times so extreme, if author wanted this to make a positive impact then protagonist should have made more of a recovery towards end . also author should have perhaps inserted something within the periphery to show audience that this dialogue is masogynic, cohoesive control, domestic violence or whatever. instead just read like a sleazy mid day movie with kink with no value to cause.

4 people found this helpful

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unbelievable

the story, the narrator, everything
if you rate a book on its skillful writing, and its ability to evoke emotion and feeling, whether good or bad, then this is one of the most amazing books you will read. It will haunt me though. The manipulative nature of abuse was disturbing as was the way the victim understood it and so many times while listening I found my fists clenched wanting to punch the guy in the face repeatedly. again this was testament to the writer's ability to take me there. Thank you, I'm moved, disturbed, angry, sympathetic and more. well written

1 person found this helpful

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Great but very dark and depressing

It was interesting to see the aspect of grooming from a victims perspective that is not the norm. Engaging but at the same time many horrible scenes that were hard to stomach.

1 person found this helpful

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anti climactic

I feel the book hit a crescendo during the middle of the story and even though it was enjoyable I think it would have been better had the timeline be switched around. I won't say anymore to avoid spoilers! great narrator and very well written.

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confronting and beautiful

this book is uncomfortable and confronting, but beautiful. it shows you that trauma impacts people in different ways and it will make you question the world around us

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disturbing-ly good

Easy to be both infuriated and captivated by the main character Vanessa. At times really hard and disturbing to listen to, but I believe that was the entire point, at times the revolt Vanessa feels palpable and visceral to the listener. A good insight into an abusive "relationship" in which a victim can in no uncertain terms describe something as abuse, while simultaneously defending the damaging actions.

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A challenging story most women will relate to in some way.

Thought provoking and relevant novel. I enjoyed the way the storyline had me torn with emotion as I both agreed and disagreed with Vanessa’s thoughts.
I thoroughly enjoyed the narration by Grace Gummer and look forward to hearing more of her work.
Can’t wait to see what Kate writes next!

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Wonderful

Beautifully written and expertly narrated, this work will stay with you even if you have no experience of the subject matter. The self examination of the main character is poetic and thoughtful, so much so that I wondered at myself for not doing more deep diving into my own psyche. The time you spend with this work will not be wasted.

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Amazing

It’s a hard book to listen to because of the subject and content but it’s such great read. The actor who reads the book is brilliant. The book brings to the fore front out lazy cultural acceptance of older men and teenage girls. Bringing to the forefront things we should be talking about. The writing and attention to detail is divine. However, if you find this subject difficult or have suffered any form of sexual harassment you may not want to read this book.

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HAUNTING AND NECESSITY

NUANCED. UNCOMFORTABLE. POWERFUL. BOLD.
That’s how this book was described. This book is nothing short of that description. We follow Vanessa when she was just 15 years as she is sexually assaulted by Mr Strane - her English teacher. Flash forward 17 years on, we see their story develop and how the trauma has drastically impacted her life. Being sexually harassed or sexually assaulted is something that sticks with you. You start to see the persons face everywhere. Paranoia becomes second nature to you. You’re constantly looking over your shoulder. Vanessa’s story points that out too. A reality for so many of us women. It also highlights the relationship a victim can have with their abuser. And how that can be such a complex and gut wrenching relationship to have. In this book, she comes to terms with the fact that what she thought was the greatest love story ever, turned out to be nothing more than a man taking advantage of younger girls and abusing his power. It’s a sickly world, but nonetheless this is a reality many of us live with. Russell’s stunning debut novel was excellent. Her writing is captivating and I found myself unable to put this book down. This is the kind of book that will make you think about your own experiences from different angels. This is the kind of book that will haunt you and that you’ll catch yourself thinking about years from now. In a time where standing in solidarity with one another and believing sexual assault victims when they become brave enough to tell their story, this book has never been more crucial and vital. A must read for all!

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  • miss esther f wainwright
  • 27-03-2021

eye-opening drama

enjoyed reading this despite the sometimes heavy storyline and difficult scenes to hear. authentic voice throughout and thought provoking ideas and dialogue

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  • Joan
  • 12-10-2020

Dark and gripping

This book was very dark, gripping and believable. I got so caught up in the story I had to remind myself that it isn't real, even though what Vanessa goes through is a very real issue that a lot of woman are struggling with. This book kept me thinking about it long after I finished it. Definitely worth a read.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 10-09-2020

A masterful and thought-provoking story.

Everything about this was good. It broke my heart, gave me hope, and brought to life a story that we usually just experience as a headline. Truly powerful.

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  • Lexi
  • 28-05-2020

Interesting But Slow

I wasn’t sure about the authenticity of the 15yr old - seemed too mature to be believable.
I enjoyed the story and I thought it dealt with some really important issues which I was glad to hear more/learn about. I felt the book was really long and could have told the same story in half the words.
I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it.

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  • Lucy
  • 11-03-2020

My new favourite book but....

I work in a book shop and we get sent proof copies of novels straight from the publisher before they are released to the public.
This book was one I fell in love with last year and have been waiting with baited breath for it to be realesed to the public and on audible (so I can devour it a third time lol)
I cannot recom3nd it highly enough ...BUT...
I don't know what it is, the narators performance is just ...flat.
It might just be because I read it twice and had a pretty solid idea of what I was expecting...

The story itself , although completely fictional, really hits home as a survivor of abuse, it's subtle yet powerful and really makes you think all the way through.
When I finished I remember putting the book down, sitting back and just thinking "whoa"!
It is in the first person and you really connect with vanessa and her point of view as a 15 year old and as an adult. How Mr Strane has shaped the woman she has become...

I would recommend this book to anyone , especially women who might have been in/seen a similar relationship in their own or one of their friends life, but a trigger warning is definitely in effect if you have suffered Serious abuse as it does not sugar coat things.

So anyway
Story 10/10
Narrator 5/10

If you can I would buy the physical book and read it that way, it is just a better experience in my opinion, but if audio book is your only option then go for it.

34 people found this helpful

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  • ML79
  • 11-03-2020

Chilling

It’s worth pointing out I am reviewing this book as someone who has experienced Sexual assaults but not from a teacher.

However, I found aspects of this terrifyingly relatable.

Aware of the controversy with ‘Excavation’ I am listening to that too and so far ( half way through Excavation ) have found them sufficiently different to feel this is not plagiarised and significantly similar to many other experiences I have read, or had related to me to feel aspects are chillingly realistic. The refusal to see behaviour as problematic , to accept blame from the abuser, and most particularly abusers’ language.

I also think Vanessa captures why victims can be terrible jurors- that some of us battle internalised misogyny and deep romanticising of our abuse.

Where I started sympathising with Vanessa has shown me where I need to keep working on myself.


It’s harrowing. And essential.

24 people found this helpful

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  • sin sin minkin
  • 24-05-2020

Uncomfortable. Essential.

Venessa's life, her whole life, is on the floor in this novel, and it is read sublimely by Grace Gummer. Her languid teenager and busted adult are perfect for Venessa's character arc. I'm simplifying, of course. This is a complex story. It pulled me side to side in ways I resisted, but the drop into darkness is important, raw as it is, to experience the simple beauty of Venessa's denouement.

My Dark Vanessa is a brilliant character study, and Gummer is the perfect - the absolutely perfect - voice to narrate it.

13 people found this helpful

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  • al
  • 22-04-2020

Right in the feels

This book had a very profound effect on me and made me face down some very tough experiences. I feel like I've been through a spin cycle on a washing machine, like I'm not going to be the same after this book and that can only be a good thing. I feel very conflicted about giving this book 5 stars especially considering such an inflammatory subject matter but to do otherwise would be a grave injustice to the author who tackles the subject in an extremely competent way. I do highly recommend this book but do read at your own risk and be prepared to put it down and come back to it in your own time. It's a tough read but my god was it worth it.
I also adored the narrator who gave the characters a life of their own even during what must have been gruelling reading.

11 people found this helpful

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  • Elle
  • 01-04-2020

Incredible.

Thought provoking and hard to swallow at some parts, but a truly heartbreaking insight into the world of abuse and PTSD.

Says a lot about our culture and I hope we can start some good conversations about this topic as a community.

11 people found this helpful

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  • Sarah Rayner
  • 26-03-2020

Dreary narration of a story lacking drama

I’m virtually a lone voice of dissension it appears, but after all the hype and glowing reviews of this book I expected something with way more ‘oomph’. It seemed lacking in story and rich characterisation, so I didn’t get much sense of the characters as rounded, breathing beings, and after hours of listening I didn’t care very much about either of them. This may have been the narrator- who was tonally flat in her delivery, but It also might be because a couple of months back I listened to another novel on a similar subject which for me resonated powerfully. It has been much less widely publicised but it’s a gem: it’s called ‘Putney’ - not a great title perhaps, but a thought provoking and compelling book about a young girl’s relationship with a much older family friend. By all means give this a go as we all enjoy different books (and hurrah for that) but check out Sofka Zinovieff’s book too as it’s a great listen!

9 people found this helpful

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  • Janine Quirk
  • 27-07-2020

unputdownable

Difficult. Uncomfortable. Brilliant. An emotional rollercoaster. A perfect book for our time when we are examining and challenging historic abuse.

8 people found this helpful

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  • Paulette Ogola
  • 13-05-2020

Very believable

A lot of the time I found myself extremely annoyed by Vanessa, but that seemed to be the author's intent. That there's no right way to be a victim and we need to extend compassion to victims of sexual abuse even if they're a little nutty and hard to empathise with. Ultimately, it was terrifying seeing how *Strain - not sure how it's spelt - singled out this child like a 3-legged wildebeest from the herd of well-adjusted wildebeest and pursued her. How he manipulated her into thinking that this was what she wanted by asking questions that only had one right answer - it's never 'No'. By making her question if she was being raped. Imagine being so brainwashed that you can't tell the difference between normal sex and rape. Anyway, the book was a mind fuck, frustrating and extremely hard to get through. But it was poignant in all the ways that mattered.

8 people found this helpful

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  • deborah mcentee
  • 07-05-2020

Couldn't stop listening

Some tough listening at times because of the detail and her sadness she feels later in life, but this topic should be hard to hear. Made me understand and think more about why some victims who choose not to come forward later on and PTSD which is something I could never get my head around before.

6 people found this helpful

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  • E
  • 28-11-2020

This is not dark academia

The title may seem like a strange one but I was recommended it on a list of dark academia - and it’s not. So, don’t be fooled like me; I like dark academia so much I used a credit without checking it out.

It’s certainly not bad - just not what I’d expected. You have the dark part for sure. It has a dual storyline - Vanessa at 15, then growing up; and Vanessa in her 30s looking back, stuck.

Read brilliantly by narrator Grace Gummer; she had just the right tone and managed to differentiate the voices beautiful. For those of you who listen to audiobooks fast, I listened very comfortably at 1.7x speed - you could probably go higher.

It’s dark and atmospheric and feels horribly real. I found myself seeing things from Vanessa’s unhealthy POV a lot of times, which was horrible, but shows the strength of writing. I speak with no experience of the things discussed in the novel.

The ending wasn’t quite right for me; it should have ended a bit sooner or gone on a bit further in my opinion. And my rating might be coloured because it wasn’t the book I was expecting.

I have a creepy desire to read Lolita now... which is freaking me out.

A good, if horrible, listen. Be prepared.

TW: underage sex; rape (?); suicidal ideation; sexual abuse; drug misuse

5 people found this helpful

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