5 stars for this confident and timely debut novel. This is the story of an English student, Vanessa Wye and her teacher, Jacob Strane. Vanessa was fifteen years old when she first had sex with Strane, in 2000. 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.
Jacob Strane is her English teacher and during one class he very gently brushes against her knee. She is not sure it happened but is excited by it. As time goes on, Strane slowly grooms her until she is under his spell. During the beginning of their relationship he gives her Lolita and this defines how she sees the two of them.
The story switches between the two periods, 2001-8 and 2017. In 2017 Vanessa now has a mediocre job as a filing clerk, attending counselling and without friends. Whereas in 2000 she is a naive fifteen-year-old embarking on a path of high expectations from her parents and school. When the story breaks that students in her old school have accused Strane of abuse she is horrified, stalking the victims and refusing to believe it has happened. Because if it is true it happened to her as well and she is not able to cope with that.
There are many powerful scenes in the story, non-more so then when Vanessa visits him on her eighteenth birthday. Russell’s writing brilliantly portrays the manipulating from Strane. It is superb, creepy, brilliant writing that makes for uncomfortable reading.