A book for the girls we are and have been. And for the girls of tomorrow

I started 2024 reading My Dark Vanessa, the debut of the American writer Kate Elizabeth Russell. I still don't know how to talk about it nor if it makes sense to do so. Sometimes, especially with the books like this, that touch the most intimate strings of our being, it is good to sediment, leave there, not to reach hasty conclusions, make sure that the emotions of narration and writing act as a magical potion inside We: sometimes something is moved, it changes us.

The story is told through two very distinct historical periods: 2000 and 2017.

In 2000 Vanessa Wye was a 15 -year -old student without very specific goals to be achieved in her life but determined. It convinces her parents to let her attend a prestigious high school in which she meets the professor of literature Jacob Strane.
Vanessa is a very introverted girl, struggles to create solid bonds of friendship and often finds herself alone to wander in the corridors of the high school, with a notebook on which she writes her poems: perhaps she would like to become a writer. Jacob Strane is a fascinating man, he is 42 years old, an established career. He decided not to create a family and in the past he has undergone a vasectomy operation, to avoid having children. In his class of literature known immediately Vanessa, his red hair, his way of dressing, he is fascinated by his places of origin - Vanessa lives with her family close to a lake - and does not scruple to approach To her, talk to her, touch her leg, start what for many people can be considered a love story between a professor and her student - a classic cliché.

Too bad that Vanessa in 2000 was a minor girl: the one told is not only a love story, but also the story of a crime, of violence. 

In 2017, Professor Jacob Strane is at the center of a media cyclone because he was accused of sexual abuse by a student in the private high school in which he still works. The student - hearing the voices that went to the strange account - discovers that Vanessa, many years earlier, had been driven out of the school because he had officially muddied the reputation of strange himself. The truth, however, had been another: many people had seen the two often staying alone, Vanessa stationed every day in the department of letters next to the professor and when someone or someone had made a spy to the director, Vanessa had been forced to say The truth and to take responsibility for his feeling for strange, thus declaring the unilaterality of history. Vanessa had had to do this position and apologies in front of an entire class of students and students who had accused her of having an intimate relationship with Jacob Strane. 

In 2017 Vanessa, after the end of college to Atlantic, after leaving occasional works, after the death of the father and always in his chaotic chamber and with his disordered life, works as a receptionist in a luxury hotel. He begins to receive many messages from the student who suffered sexual abuse from Strange and who denounced him, with the plea of ​​joining his complaints. The world is in fibrillation: it is precisely 2017 the year in which the Move to me too Free the chains of many women who, through a hashtag on social media, finally feel legitimized to speak of the harassment and violence suffered in particular on the jobs, starting from the public revelations of accusations of sexual violence against the cinematographic producer Harvey Weinstein up to more marginalized women.

Vanessa does not immediately respond to the student who accuses strange: in her head she never suffered sexual violence: everything that happened between her and her professor has always been consensual. Vanessa traces her love story, brings to mind the main steps of the book that strange had given her, Lolita of Nabokov; Remember their first time in bed, the exits of hidden from the high school, the kisses in the department, the touch of his hand on his knees the first time, sitting next to him on the chair, in front of all the other students and other students who They ended a task. 

Vanessa brings us to the dark world of dysfunctional relationships: love (was love?), Obsession, wait, attachment, trust, sex. 

How does the life of a 15 year old girl who falls in love with her 42 professor changes? 

Is their sex the madness of love or is it a sexual abuse? Can the infatuation of a fifteen -year -old be considered loving feeling and can consciously decide on his body? How much is his will? How much is it consent?

Vanessa Ribbrividares thinking about the first time in bed with strange: taken abruptly, by surprise, in a night awakening, when you open your eyes by mistake and you want a glass of water. He had found himself the flaccid body of strange patient in front, the lowered underwear, the erect penis, had asked her to relax, she had told her that everything would go well, not to move and not to twist. Vanessa had replied that she was sleeping. Above all, that he was hurting her. Relax, strange continued. It will end, Vanessa thought. It is only a body that will soon have finished what she started doing. 

It can be considered a first consensual first time even if no one has forced Vanessa to escape from high school that night, to take refuge in the jeep of strange, to enter her house, have dinner with Sofficini, receive a pajamas as a gift with the printing of strawberries and fall asleep in That bed with flannel sheets? 

Vanessa thinks back to her life and her relationship with strange: try to remember the facts and also try to redefine them on the basis of what everyone is now saying: what strange is a molester and an Abuser. 

Just in these days I made a reflection, after reading this book and after reading many books with similar issues: I don't know how much we women know how to write about sex. There are beautiful pages that speak of desire written for example by Annie Ernaux or Sally Rooney. I have the feeling, however, that in most cases the writers do not know how to talk about sex without the thread of the judgment: it is always talked about or with vulgar and rough words or with mild and fickle words. Instead, the writers always know how to speak very well about the first few times, especially when they are not consensual, when they take place forcefully, when they narrate the grip of others, violence, dissent. 

I always believe that literature is a fundamental index of how things go to society that represents the writer or the writer. Not knowing how to speak well of sex and knowing how to speak very well of harassment, abuse and of non -consensual sex means only one thing: we live in a society in which to talk about sex for women is still inconvenient, in which there is no suitable language To them that it is not perceived as vulgar or syctural, as if sex does not even belong to women, as if it were only the prerogative of other identities and almost always male and that the only place in which women may be is the one at the bottom , which provides for prevarication, abuse, violence and objectifying, childish and sexist use of their body. 

My Dark Vanessa It is not a story that slips away so easily: it is not a simple book, it is a trait of the life of all of us; It is a piece of the puzzle of our kind.
Tells our loves, our obsessions, our false departures; It investigates our feelings, the darkest, darker, more black desires, chewed and swallowed up to vomit them together with the bile. Speaks of sexual violence but also of psychological violence, of how subtle, creeping and viscous this is; Finally he leads us to that dirt road full of holes who is the existence of a woman when it is crossed by an experience of which he does not recognize the traits, the outlines, when he finds himself in a landscape of which he has lost the coordinates, it space, geography. 

Because violence against women produces this: the fault, the responsibility, the silence of the victim, and on the other hand the silence of the abusant and of all the people who gravitate around him. 

This is a book for the girls we are and that we have been. A book for tomorrow's girls.


Clara Marziale


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