My Dark Vanessa


‘Romance is rape by seduction’.

– Andrea Dworkin.


I used to hate Andrea Dworkin. She was invoked like a saint by all those hateful, spotty little feminazis at Melbourne University, chanting and shouting and marching, projecting all kinds of resentment and hatred. They threw the word ‘men’ like it was a paper bag full of shit.

After graduating from a single sex private grammar school, the first step in getting myself together as an adult was to move away from the kids I had shared high school classrooms with.

They wore Ralph Lauren and joined the Young Liberals, proud of their privilege, given to looking down their noses at anyone who disagreed with them with a mixture of pity and contempt.

I couldn’t get far enough away. And the feminazis were telling us that we were, in essence, exactly the same execrable creature.



I remember the Dworkin quote because of the way I felt it pass through me like a fishhook when I heard it. But it felt more like a hunch than the dark side of a fact until I read My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell.

According to The Book Depository, My Dark Vanessa is the story of Vanessa Wye, who was

‘…fifteen years old when she first had sex with her English teacher. She is now thirty-two 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 of our age.’

I read the book as I always do, which is pretty much as an act of submission to the intelligence of the writer. It was easy, because I had time to kill and Vanessa is an incendiary page turner.

However, it’s a better novel than simply that. To try and clarify my own experience after I’d finished, I set about reading some of the reviews.

The best review I read was written by a woman named Sophie Gilbert, published in The Atlantic Magazine.

The tagline of the review was, ‘The difficulty of My Dark Vanessa lies in its adult narrator, who refuses to acknowledge her childhood trauma even as she recounts it.’

It’s not that I want to undermine her observation, but it smacks of what you might criticise as a kind of editorializing, and to my mind, comes from the assumption that the narrator and the writer are the same intelligence.

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