My Dark Vanessa

A Novel
Narrated by: Grace Gummer
Length: 15 hrs and 36 mins
Categories: Fiction, Literary
4.5 out of 5 stars (288 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

Entertainment Weekly's Breakout Author to Watch in 2020

"Brilliant and stunning...an absolute must read." (Gillian Flynn)

"A well-constructed package of dynamite." (Stephen King)

A most anticipated book by The New York TimesUSA TodayEntertainment WeeklyMarie ClaireElle Harper's BazaarBustle NewsweekNew York PostEsquire Real SimpleThe Sunday TimesThe Guardian

One of the most buzzed-about debuts in years

An international sensation sold in 24 territories and counting

Exploring the psychological dynamics of the relationship between a precocious yet naïve teenage girl and her magnetic and manipulative teacher, a brilliant, all-consuming listen that marks the explosive debut of an extraordinary new writer.

2000. Bright, ambitious, and yearning for adulthood, 15-year-old Vanessa Wye becomes entangled in an affair with Jacob Strane, her magnetic and guileful 42-year-old English teacher.

2017. Amid the rising wave of allegations against powerful men, a reckoning is coming due. Strane has been accused of sexual abuse by a former student, who reaches out to Vanessa, and now Vanessa suddenly finds herself facing an impossible choice: remain silent, firm in the belief that her teenage self willingly engaged in this relationship, or redefine herself and the events of her past. But how can Vanessa reject her first love, the man who fundamentally transformed her and has been a persistent presence in her life? Is it possible that the man she loved as a teenager - and who professed to worship only her - may be far different from what she has always believed?

Alternating between Vanessa’s present and her past, My Dark Vanessa juxtaposes memory and trauma with the breathless excitement of a teenage girl discovering the power her own body can wield. Thought-provoking and impossible to put down, this is a masterful portrayal of troubled adolescence and its repercussions that raises vital questions about agency, consent, complicity, and victimhood. Written with the haunting intimacy of The Girls and the creeping intensity of Room, My Dark Vanessa is an era-defining novel that brilliantly captures and reflects the shifting cultural mores transforming our relationships and society itself.

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

©2020 Kate Elizabeth Russell (P)2020 HarperAudio

Editor's Pick

A dark, absorbing Lolita for the 21st century
"The sexual relationship between a 15 year old and her decades-older teacher can only be described as the rape of a child, but an adolescent—on a passionate identity quest, informed by literature and a culture that relentlessly sexualizes girls—doesn’t think of herself as a child, does she? Kate Elizabeth Russell’s absorbing and disturbing debut novel nails what it might be like to be 15, desperate to feel seen and to matter—and then, with devastating realism and pacing, to be groomed and raped by a predator. "I’m going to ruin you," 42-year-old Jacob Strane tells Vanessa early in the novel, and his prediction plays out through a dual timeline that alternates with Vanessa’s adult reckoning, set in #MeToo-era 2017. With a necessary trigger warning for sexual violence and child abuse, My Dark Vanessa provides visceral nuance to the consent conversation as well as an effective contemporary response to Lolita (a publishing trendlet of late). Narrator Grace Gummer, known for her role in Mr. Robot and as the daughter of Meryl Streep, sounds both tough and achingly vulnerable in an unforgettable performance. She embodies the character so well that, combined with Russell’s masterful prose, Vanessa feels deeply real in a way that’s impossible to shake. I hope she’s doing OK."—Kat J., Audible Editor

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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I apologize

I returned this book because it was painful and expressed deep concerns about abuse. I bought it back (I owe Audible a credit) because the writing, directing and performance was inspiring, thought provoking, and made me feel things I had long ago pushed down in my psyche! God Bless the team

12 people found this helpful

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Outstanding.

Russell should, and will, be celebrated as the first author with the courage to treat this subject with the complexity it deserves. Beautifully and thoughtfully done.

8 people found this helpful

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Amazing

A very different perspective. We have heard so many personal stories, especially in the past couple of years, but this one takes you through such an intimate journey of the main characters psyche throughout her life. We are given a new understanding of how someone can process and manipulate their reality in ways that to most seem a completely different circumstance. I believe that Vanessa’s rationality is relatable to more girls and women than we would think.

5 people found this helpful

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OUTSTANDING

Timeless and timely, this tale, although difficult to read at times, is a must read. I believe every woman has had some type of similar experience whether as a “Dark Vanessa” or as an observer. This is definitely a book for discussion!

3 people found this helpful

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STUNNING

“I need it to be a love story. I need it to be that.”

WOW!! I don't think I have the words to describe how I feel about this book. With stunning writing and powerful prose, the author has written one of THE most important books of the year. I was completely entranced by the audiobook narrated by Grace Gummer, whose youthful-sounding voice perfectly captured the spirit of Vaness Wye.

Vanessa first meets her teacher Jacob Strane when she is a lonely 15-year-old attending boarding school in Maine. The reader sees that he is grooming her but to Vanessa, and in his own words, Strane is falling in love with her. With him, she feels smart, talented, special. Vanessa cannot admit to herself or to anyone later in her life that what happened what actually abuse.

“This, I think, is the cost of telling, even in the guise of fiction. Once you do, it’s the only thing about you anyone will ever care about. It defines you whether you want it to or not.”

Vanessa is not completely truthful with her family about Strane even though there are many red flags about their deepening relationship. There were many times that an adult could have stepped in but no one did. Instead Vanessa is the one whose life is altered by Strane's actions - even though she can never use harsh words for his actions, and describes their time together as a love story.

Vanessa never paints herself as a victim because that would mean her relationship with Strane was illicit. But when years later another young student makes allegations against Strane, she is forced to confront her own past and Strane's actions.

"I'm a survivor, too."

That word, with its cloying empathy; that patronizing, flattening word that makes my whole body cringe no matter the context-it pushes too far."

I could not stop listening to this stunning and powerful story. The writing is exquisite! Alternating between 2000 and 2017, we can clearly see how Strane's actions scarred her as an adult, even if Vanessa herself cannot quite recognize it.

This story is so compelling and complex that I kept stopping the audiobook to mark quotes from the book. I was COMPLETELY engrossed in this beautiful story and loved the bonus interview with the author and narrator at the end of the audiobook. Whether you read this or listen to the audiobook, make this one of your must-reads this year. Bravo to the author for this magnificent story!

2 people found this helpful

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Complex and compelling - and fabulously read aloud

Wow, what a novel – beautifully written (essential for writing about horror), paced, and developed. I can hardly stop listening once I started. I wish that Oprah hadn’t dropped this from her book club because the subject matter of this book is controversial. The book doesn’t come down on the side of abusers. Rather, it illuminates the panoply of dynamics, including the vulnerability of victims. I hope this book sparks wide conversation.

The audiobook was excellent. Sometimes I speed up the pace of audiobooks (to 1.25) but the pace of this performance was perfect, including the many times it slowed down to match what was happening in the story. The narrator’s voice varied for the different characters and also for Vanessa at different ages. I would highly recommend the audiobook. Just warning, you won’t be able to stop listening once you start.

I know several people who are afraid to read this book because it’s dark, as advertised in the title. But it really is important to read. And, I must say, from a literary perspective, it’s a true pleasure.

2 people found this helpful

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A mesmerizing and gut-wrenching first novel!

I cannot explain how much I loved listening to My Dark Vanessa. Grace Gummer was perfect as the reader. It's unbelievable to think this is Kate Elizabeth Russell's first novel. It is enchanting, mesmerizing, addicting and soul shredding at the same time. This is well worth the read and very relevant. The moral questions of this story will have everyone questioning their questions, past actions, memories and relationships over and over again. This would be a GREAT book club book, the story begs for continued conversation.... HIGHLY RECOMMEND. I walked 35 miles listening to this book in one week. I never wanted to put it down.

2 people found this helpful

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Wow.

That was amazing. I would give in 15 stars if I could. Eloquently written, consuming tale that will leave you eager to discuss with fellow readers.

2 people found this helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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A little intense

It is very hard to listen to 15 hours of child rape. It is not a bad book by any means and the writing is actually good, it’s just not for me. Not my cup of tea.

2 people found this helpful

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Long and drawn out

I kept waiting for a twist that never came. Weird romanticism of teacher student relationship. Lost interest quickly but continued listening for the twist. There was none.

1 person found this helpful