My Dark Vanessa



“I called Lolita a love story and the professor cut me off, saying, ‘Calling this novel a love story indicates an unconscionable misreading on your part.’

She wouldn’t even let me finish what I was trying to say. Ever since then, I haven’t dared bring it up in any of my classes.”


My Dark Vanessa.

Sophie Gilbert, in her aforementioned review for The Atlantic, doesn’t seem to have picked up that Strane has clearly both exploited Vanessa and made her pay the price for their relationship in all sorts of ways.

Embedded in that review is the link to another article: ‘How to tell an open secret: three recent novels that demonstrate how fiction can deftly capture the long-term effects of sexual assault and harassment.’

That link creates the strong suggestion that the real problem with Kate Elizabeth Russell’s novel is that she hasn’t stapled the ‘me too’ flag into Vanessa’s hand.


In my mid-twenties, I  broke my femur when I had a fall from a mountain bike. Upon recovering in hospital, I found myself confronted by the question: ‘Who am I?’

Lying in the hospital bed, I couldn’t engage in any of the activities that had given my life meaning. I wasn’t my physical body, or my tattoos. Without markers or manifestations however, it was clear that I continued to exist.

I recognised that my ‘true’ self was a mystery, one that revealed itself moment-to-moment when I took action, based on a decision.

You never know what you’ll do until you choose to do it under pressure. The power to choose well, to choose the difficult, sometimes costly thing, comes from strength.

Strength is the child of trauma.

If the body can be used as a metaphor, trauma is the theme of training. Strength is the result of recovery from that. If today is the last day of my life, I will give the name of trauma to the stern, shadowy angel that has held me by the hand.

Without my teacher, I may have got better marks and done something vocational, instead of an arts degree. I might never have broken any of my bones or knocked anybody out.

My Dad and I might still speak to each other. I might not have sat down to write a sentence in anger, or passion, or misery.

I might be married and go to bed at a reasonable hour, instead of waking with rags of reality caught in my machinery, ghosts lying beside me and someone else’s name in my mouth.

I might have spent the evening sitting calmly in front of the television instead of sitting here, reaching out to you.

One Response to “My Dark Vanessa”

  1. If you can write this powerfully you can rewrite all the issues you bring up at the end. You have alot to offer others.

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