My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell

The story doesn't give out the truth immediately but dropping bits and pieces here and there, guiding the readers to the bigger picture at a moderate pace. It captures our attention from the beginning with a Facebook post of a girl telling a story of her assault by a teacher which indicates Strane is the abuser. This is a great start, taking advantage of the current trend of social media which delivers most of our daily news along with the public sharing their unreserved opinions.

The story switches between the present time (2017) and the past, ranging from 2000 to 2007. Vanessa was just fifteen years old when she met her teacher Strane who was forty-two years old at that time. It gives us some insight into how their relationship blossom from a student-teacher relationship and slowly progresses to a taboo romance.

Back to the present time, Vanessa still keeps in touch with Strane, especially after the Facebook post. There are times, Vanessa seems still confused with her past although we are not sure whether she is in trauma or she is still unsure with the situation. Her former boyfriend seems disgusted with her thought and suggested her to see a therapist. The public outcry expresses their condemnation of such unacceptable act on the Facebook post. However, Vanessa seems couldn't comprehend or get past her understanding ability to think from other's perspective. In her own world, it's just like other romantic relationship. She doesn't want to see herself as a victim or in another way, treating Strane as a predator means admitting herself as a victim.

In the beginning, Strane is being portrayed as a decent teacher who still aware of his conscience and feeling guilty for his desire. However, when Vanessa's naivety has easily given herself to him, which paves an easy road for him to commit his lustrous sin, Strane has become a different person since then. As their affair continues, the dark side of Strane begins to slowly reveal and what he wants is an obedient Vanessa who not only continue to give herself to him but also willing to keep the secret to protect him.

Halfway through the story, I wish I can finish this book as soon as possible and never look back. The last time I read such a mind-boggling book is 'A Little Life' by Hanya Yanagihara. Reading the past is disturbing, and reading the present is sad. I think a lot of people will feel Vanessa is sick, disgusting or probably mentally ill. Or maybe in another way, some people think that she is pathetic or has a traumatic life.

I don't know what I should feel about her. Sometimes, she seems clueless and confused with what is right or wrong, and also with the things happening around her. But there are times, she seems aware of what is going on and possesses a certain level of analytical and logic skills to dissect the entire situation. Sometimes, it seems she is just an unlucky girl who is lonely and wants to be loved, listened, and understood. But at different times, she looks capable enough to protect herself, independent and she knows what she wants. Her mother seems always belittling her ability, although I feel she's stronger than what her mother thinks of her. Well, if the teacher considers as a predator, which I label salespeople as the same category (although they are different type of predator), they usually always go for the loner because loner is the easier target. And loner usually keeps everything to themselves and have nobody to share secrets with.

I liked Strane's ending, but it doesn't mean I agree with his action. Probably it's because I don't know how to end his story if I were the author. Usually, I would prefer justice, but I'm not sure why I like the ending that he chooses for himself. Not that I sympathize of him, in fact, I feel disgusted with the things that he says when he tries to protect himself. Even towards the end, when he tells Vanessa that she can tell the truth which probably no longer affects him, I still feel it's just his tactic of a cover-up for himself.

I'm curious about this small detail. Vanessa was hired by the hotel eight years ago. The story mentioned that when she joins the hotel, Inez has to teach her the updated computer system, and the sequence for making a reservation, checking in a guest. Later the story reveals that Inez is just only seventeen. So, does it means Inez was just nine years old when she taught Vanessa about the system? Not saying it's impossible but just wondering whether a nine-year-old girl really has such knowledge to do that.

When it reaches the part of her going to the college, surprisingly, I'm more worried about the professor's safety more than Vanessa. Her English professor Henry coincidentally also likes the book 'Lolita'. This leads Vanessa to start thinking of the connection between her and Henry due to the similarity between Henry and Strane.

I guess Vanessa somehow despises him and deep inside, her anger with his betrayal and the detestation of what he did to her actually exist without her knowledge. It leads her to wish that Strane will be caught and the fall will occur on him. However, Strane can manipulate her mind, the ability to make her believe that she is so important for him. Vanessa loves the feeling of being needed because it makes her feeling consequential or "special". I guess she is not willing to let him go because she loves the needy feeling. And Vanessa is not sure that she can find the same feeling again if she ends the relationship. As time goes by, both of them seem using each other to fulfil their desires and needs and slowly turn into a habit (give and take), a habit which keeps checking Strane's conscience and Vanessa keeps questioning whether it's a relationship or a rape.

Rating: ★★★★ (4/5)
More reviews can be found on Goodreads: My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell.

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