Have you ever read My Dark Vanessa? If not yet, it’s a sign for you to read it. Written by Kate Elizabeth Russell and published in 2020, My Dark Vanessa consists of a story about a student who has an affair with her teacher. A 15 years old girl and 42 years old grown-adult-man. This book has a lot of trigger warnings, such as sexual abuse, emotional manipulation, pedophilia or to be exact ephebophile, predatory grooming, rape, sexual assault, and suicide. If you find yourself feeling triggered by one of those things, I suggest you close this page and take a breath.
Vanessa Wye, a red-haired girl, an introvert person, just has one friend yet they have a fight and don’t talk to each other again, and pursue her dream school far from home. She is vulnerable. However, she is smart and loves writing. But sadly, her teacher, Mr. Strane, takes advantage of her innocence. Begun with a small talk about hair appreciation, Strane telling he wants to kiss Vanessa under the big tree, a small physical touch in creative writing club, until a grope behind his desk in a classroom. It’s getting worse than anything. Until at last, they are bound to have sex.
Strane was manipulative. He is always saying something to get Vanessa’s attention. One of the most memorable ones is “I can tell from the way you write that you are a dark romantic like me. You like dark things”. Vanessa, who was 15 years old, didn’t have someone to talk to, she was shackled by Strane. She thought that it was fine to keep the whole things on their way. It’s fine to keep coming back to Strane. Although in fact, it was not.
The book had a writing style coming back-and-forth in 2000, when Vanessa was 15 years old and 2017, when Vanessa was 32 years old. Later, Vanessa is trapped by her ordinary job as receptionist’s hotel, and gives up everything because of what happened with Strane. 32 years old Vanessa still keeps in touch with Strane, who somehow at the right time had been accused of being abused towards the other girl from the same school with Vanessa before. Vanessa didn’t believe it. She thought that the girl was lying. She always denied it even with her therapist.
A 15 years old Vanessa, who loves writing, full of ideas, and smart, becomes nothing in her adulthood. She stuck with Strane. She is stuck with all of the things that happened in 2000. Her being kicked out of the school, discovers about another student that has a similar condition with her, her desire with someone older, and craving for sex with Strane. Vanessa’s life changes. She is not the same anymore. Her obsession with Lolita, the book that Strane recommended her to read, is quite worrying. Sometimes, Vanessa would associate her story with Lo’s story. And believe that it is a love story.
One thing that had been concerned is, even after Strane gone, Vanessa still felt haunted by all of the accidents. Everywhere she goes and whenever it is, she always thinks about Strane and her. She always thinks that Strane really loved her, not like with the other girl. She always thinks that she is special to Strane. She always thinks. It was proof that Strane was successfully manipulating her.
“To be groomed is to be loved and handled like a precious, delicate thing” – Vanessa Wye.
Is it Vanessa’s fault? Her mother’s fault, for not fighting back when things went wrong? Her school’s fault for keeping silent? Strane fault for not being wiseful enough? It is everyone’s fault. This book portrayed how the victim lived their life after “that” moment. When no one was able to stand for her. When everyone pretends that it would be fine if we forget that. Her life was destroyed. Never in a single day she survives without thinking about Strane. It is hard to start a new life. And Vanessa could do it after a 17 year of artificiality.
No one could ever survive it. What they did is just try to accept things and serve out their lives. Even though the executant was gone, a victim would still feel haunted and struggling to continue their life normally. An abusive relationship was not healthy at all. It was like hell on earth.
Russell, Kate Elizaberh. 2020. My Dark Vanessa. William Morrow.
Penulis: Siti Fatimah
Editor: Desy Putri R.