An era-defining novel about the relationship between a fifteen-year-old girl and her teacher.
ALL HE DID WAS FALL IN LOVE WITH ME AND THE WORLD TURNED HIM INTO A MONSTER.
Vanessa Wye 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.
MY REVIEW: So...this is a tough book review. Very similar to A Little Life in the way that it is so well written but the subject matter is extremely heavy and uncomfortable. So yes it is an excellent book and it is a book I would recommend but only for those who are able for it. It really isn't for the faint hearted.
What makes the book so powerful is the writing. Russell completely immerses the reader in this dark and creepy world of Vanessa and Strane's. From page 1 you are completely hooked and invested in the story, despite how uncomfortable it sometimes gets. One thing that truly shows how strong the writing is how Russell can vividly describe what would usually be a troubling scene in a way that does not leave the reader feeling distressed, but it also doesn't take away from the seriousness of what is happening. I've read some books that describe similar scenes and I've actually had to stop reading the book for a few days because it made me feel so uneasy. Whereas, Russell somehow manages to do this in a way that actually encourages the writer to keep reading.
With such amazing writing, comes absolutely fantastic characters. Let's start with the dark and disturbed Jacob Strane; you can so clearly picture this super creepy and manipulative man. Some of the scenes with him really get the hairs raised on the back of your neck and he really gets into your head. He's so well depicted and is a character that really haunts the reader. And then there is Vanessa...a very complex and, dare I say it, frustrating character. Of course this is likely how she is meant to come across due to everything that happened between her and Strane. We experience many sides to Vanessa as she navigates her way around this manipulative and dark relationship over the course of many years. From her innocence at the age of 15 to her battling her inner demons well into her thirties, Vanessa is a troubled and powerful character that embodies the horror that so many poor girls experience every day.
One thing that was clearly highlighted in the book is the level of manipulation that can occur with young girls. They are at such a sensitive and turbulent time as teenagers and just a look or a touch can lead them down a dark path, especially with someone who knows the way. The story also put a much needed spotlight on the horrific abuse women can get for coming forward. In one of the chapters, one of the girls who exposes Strane receives death threats from others and people claim she is exaggerating and playing the victim. It is so infuriating and downright disgusting and it's no wonder so many women and girls are too afraid to come out when harassed and sexually abused.
In a nutshell, this is a heart-breaking and extremely heavy read. It really puts the reader in the shoes of these poor victims and opens your eyes to the harsh reality that this happens more often than we would like to think.
I'll leave you with a really heart wrenching quote that summarises the book so well:
“I can’t lose the thing I’ve held onto for so long, you know?” My face twists up from the pain of pushing it out. “I just really need it to be a love story, you know? I really, really need it to be that.”
“I know,” she says.
“Because if it isn’t a love story, then what is it”? I look to her glassy eyes, her face of wide open empathy. “It’s my life,” I say. “This has been my whole life.”
IN 3 WORDS/PHRASES:
FAVOURITE QUOTE: 'How much strength does it take to hurt a little girl? How much strength does it take for the girl to get over it? Which one of them do you think is stronger?'
I don't think this is a novel where I can pick a favourite character. As I said above, the characters are excellent but I didn't connect with them at all, which I guess is not surprising taken the overall plot of the book.