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POD: Book Clubs

My Dark Vanessa

A darkly, compelling debut

My Dark Vanessa is the harrowing tale of fifteen year old Vanessa Wye’s relationship with her forty five year old English teacher, Jacob Strane and the lasting impact it has on her life.  Kate Elizabeth Russell resists the insistence on black and white in sexual dealings – instead inhabiting the mind of a vulnerable teenager, offering insight into how black might feel like white, how abuse may be taken for romance – and how this lie could be desperately clung onto into adulthood.  My Dark Vanessa reveals a slow journey towards a different understanding

Although this book seems very current, with its themes of manipulation by an older man, Kate Elizabeth Russell actually took 18 years to write this novel that has been labelled Lolita for the #MeToo society.  Like American Dirt, this novel too has courted controversy: a seven figure advance, allegations of plagiarism that got it dropped from Oprah’s book club,  and questions about whether the novel was based on Russell’s own experience and the implication that she needed to prove her credentials for writing about sexual trauma.  It is somewhat ironic that in writing a book about a woman who doesn’t want to come forward about abuse, she is then forced to reveal her own trauma. As she says on her website, “my greatest wish is that My Dark Vanessa will spark conversation about the complexity of coercion, trauma, and victimhood, because while these stories can feel all too familiar, victims are not a monolith and there is no universal experience of sexual violence”.  See her website (link in Xtra) for the complete piece.

Stephen King described it as ‘A hard story to read and an even harder one to put down … a package of dynamite’.  See what you think.

Part of our ‘Beyond the Book’ Series. View



Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books

(28 mins)

Zibby Owens. a New York based mum of 4, talks to Kate Elizabeth Russell.  She discusses her novel coinciding with #MeToo movement and her views on rewriting the narrative of victimhood and consent.


Fully Booked by Kirkus Reviews

(46 mins)

Get the ultimate insider’s scoop on the best new books. The editors at Kirkus Reviews interview your favorite authors, tell you whether or not the books on the bestseller list are worth the read, give you behind-the-scenes insights, and introduce you to great books you may otherwise never find.

Here Editor Megan Labrise talks to Kate Elizabeth Russell about her novel.  After the intro, the interview runs from 7.50 to 31.24


The Harvey Weinstein Trial Unfiltered – The Gag Order

(46 mins)

This podcast, from journalists Phelim McAleer and Ann McEhinney, ran daily during Harvey Weinstein’s trial for rape and sexual assault.  This episode discusses how the defense team tried to remove one of the jurors, claiming she was “reviewing books on predatory older men” including My Dark Vanessa. Had she been dismissed, it would have changed the demographic makeup of Weinstein’s jury. Alternate juror No. 1 was a man, meaning No. 11’s dismissal would have left the jury with eight men and four women.

The identity of the juror, Amanda Brainerd, can now be revealed because the case has concluded, and she had actually written a book (The Age of Consent) about predatory older men seducing younger women, before she was selected as a juror.

The relevant section starts 13 minutes in.




Portal in the Pages – My Dark Vanessa Review

(10 mins)

Sophie from Portal in the Pages reviews My Dark Vanessa


Waterstones Shelfie with Kate Elizabeth Russell

(7 mins)

Here Kate Elizabeth Russell talks about her new novel and shares the three books that influenced her in writing it – Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov; Amy & Isabelle by Elizabeth Strout and Blackbird by David Harrower

(apologies for the slightly dodgy sound at the start)




This Is Not a Love Story


At 16, Kate Elizabeth Russell saw her book about a student’s affair with a teacher as a romance. She sees it differently now.  By Lily Shapiro for Vulture

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‘It Took Me Three Years To Realise I’d Been Abused By A Paedophile’


When she was 12, Hayley McGregor had an affair with her 25-year-old teacher. Here, for the first time, she reveals the moment she realised it was not an affair – it was abuse.  She has written a book about her experience: Teacher’s Pet

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How was Larry Nassar able to abuse so many gymnasts for so long?


The biggest sexual abuse scandal in sports history shines a light on a culture of medals over morals by Hadley Freeman of The Guardian

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What is Sexual Grooming? Identifying the 6 stages


Today’s sexual predators aren’t lurking in the shadows, wearing trench coats, and driving windowless vans. They look like everybody else. They’re coaching after-school sports, teaching in the classroom, performing medical examinations, living next door, participating in religious services, or even sitting at our holiday dinner tables. In fact, 90% of sexual abuse victims know their abuser and, on the surface, these abusers can appear charming, helpful, and kind.

Lewis & Llewellyn – a law practice dedicated to obtaining justice for sexual abuse survivors – outline the six stages of sexual grooming.

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Book Clubbin’: 10 Discussion Questions for ‘My Dark Vanessa’

+ Read Article


Kate Elizabeth Russell website

Teacher’s Pet – Channel 5

NSPCC – Grooming


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