This book explores the relationship between 15 year old Vanessa and her English teacher. It is dual timeline and flips between the present day where Vanessa is an adult and back to her days as a student at the boarding school that she attended. We get to understand the repercussions of the relationship on Vanessa’s life, her though processes and follow her through the ups and downs of that process.
This book is certainly very dark (as the title suggests- although that of course is not the reason for the title). I think it offers a very real, and different perspective of the definition of ‘rape’ particularly in relation to a minor. I think as a society we are very guilty of seeing rape as being something that is an act that comes with a fight and often overlook the form of rape that involves emotional abuse that renders the victim unable to see the reality of the situation. Although this was a very dark topic to explore I felt it was done tastefully and that it really shone a light on the anguish of Vanessa in discovering that what happened to her was completely not okay.
This book was unique in the way it made me want to keep reading and to put it down in equal measures. The writing style pulled me into the torture of Vanessa’s mind whilst reminding me of my own perspective and wish to protect her from the monster that she was unable to see.
I found the beginning of the book to be gripping and of medium pace however I did struggle a little with the last third, it seemed like a lot of words to say the same things that could have been said in fewer words.
I liked how certain phrases or situations repeated throughout the book without giving any sort of nod to this, it was as if we were being given the signs of the abuse that Vanessa was missing- the way Strane said the same phrases to different girls was a really powerful example of despite the abuse being seemingly obvious to Vanessa this just could not be seen.
I thought the exploration of the #metoo movement was really interesting and I liked that it demonstrated a slightly different side to that. I think we all believe a movement like that is nothing short of empowering but actually I think in this book Vanessa almost seemed intimidated by it, as though what happened to her would be dismissed as part of people looking to come forward, this is something that is overlooked.
The thing that I found the hardest when reading this book was the rape. I understand why what happened to Vanessa was romanticised (that is of course what happens when grooming occurs) but it just made me feel sad, it made me feel uncomfortable and it made me concerned that the point could be missed. That somebody else might not read it for the representation of grooming that it is but instead see the power dynamic as being something desirable.
I would have liked to have seen a little more from the secondary characters in this book or even Vanessa’s therapist. I felt as though we didn’t really get any tangible consequence. When Vanessa finds herself in what she thinks is a similar situation with another professor but he is in fact not a predator and just a nice guy I felt this could have been focussed on more to show how difficult it was for her to then form normal relationships and identify which people are actually good hearted.
Since finishing this book I have seen a lot of controversy about it being similar to other stories of the same nature and for me I feel like that is the point. So many abusers demonstrate the same patterns of behaviour, the same predatory tactics and leave the victim feeling equally as vulnerable yet powerful. For me the fact that it is similar to other books only demonstrates the problem that we have as a society even further.
Overall, I would recommend reading this book although I would certainly do this with care. It is a powerful book that will make you question what you know, the society we live in and at times leave you feeling absolutely disgusted with the human race but it will also make you feel the value in not being one of those people, in being in the world to protect people like Vanessa.