On page 134 of Kate Elizabeth Russell’s debut novel, the protagonist, having just finished phone sex with the 42-year-old she believes she loves, wonders about his ejaculation: ‘I try to imagine how it works when he does that, if he comes into his hand, or a towel … How gross it is for men, having the giveaway of a mess at the end. The thought You’re fucking disgusting surges through me.’ To readers of My Dark Vanessa this thought will not be a surprise: they will have had it themselves 129 pages earlier. There, on page five, this same man says to this same girl, ‘It’s just my luck that when I finally find my soul mate, she’s fifteen years old.’ From that moment readers know what they’re dealing with. It will take seventeen years for the protagonist to begin to do the same.
Jacob Strane, a teacher, grooms his fifteen-year-old student Vanessa Wye through a clever combination of intellectual validation, compliments and blandishments disguised as respect, before engaging in a sexual relationship with her. Russell tells the story of their ongoing entanglement in the voices of the adolescent and then adult Vanessa. Both