Categories: Contemporary Fiction, Literary Fiction, Mystery
I received an advanced copy via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.
My Dark Vanessa was among my most anticipated books for 2020, and justifiably so. This intense, consuming book is an exploration of the psychological effects of abuse a teenage girl suffers from when she’s fifteen all the way into adulthood, and the love story she is convinced she lived, instead of the horrific reality of the abuse. It’s not an easy read, and it’s not for every reader. It was a rewarding experience to read this – I was left destroyed and with so many thoughts going through my head, I had no idea how to write this review.
The most interesting aspect of the book is how unlikable Vanessa can be, how deep the excuses she makes for abusive men run. She can be an asshole, and it’s not easy at all to understand her actions sometimes. But that does not mean you don’t empathize – the pain she experiences is just awful. If she were a “perfect victim”, I think the book would not have the same impact – the fact that she made mistakes and was judged (mostly by herself) for that makes for a very difficult read at times. She is convinced she’s not a victim because she was “willing”, she therefore cannot have been abused, and it’s so sad to watch her suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder and put herself in harm’s way on purpose after she’s been so damaged psychologically from the experience. By the time the book starts, it’s 2017 and she’s been on an “on and off relationship” with her abused for most of her life. She can hardly tell who she is without the abuse. Watching her abuser manipulate her is so heartbreaking. It’s a shocking, brutal thing to read about, and I recommend you skip this book if those things could be potentially triggering to you.
It took me a few chapters to really get into the writing and the story, as I found Vanessa not very engaging in the beginning, but it got better. The mystery and the twists make this an even more engrossing read. I think the author did a great job in portraying the abuse in a nuanced way, without giving an opening for the reader to think that maybe it was ok and not all that horrible. This book feels very relevant in a time when women who come out with their stories of abuse aren’t believed, and are scrutinized for any flaws in their character that could “justify” what they went through. It’s also a great thing that it focuses on Vanessa, rather than the abuser: we don’t get a “this is why he is this way”, but rather a “this is why Vanessa was vulnerable”. This story is timely, and yet timeless. It leaves you aching for more – more justice, more closure, more action.