Fourth Estate stands by My Dark Vanessa over US author's claims

Fourth Estate stands by My Dark Vanessa over US author's claims

Fourth Estate has said claims that My Dark Vanessa is not all author Kate Elizabeth Russell's own work are false, after a US writer said the book was "eerily similar" to her memoir of abuse.

Russell’s much-hyped début, which will be published in the UK on 31st March, tells the story of the relationship between a 15-year-old student and her high-school teacher who is later accused of sexual abuse.

But Latinx author Wendy C Ortiz, whose memoir Excavation (Future Tense) deals with her sexual relationship with her English teacher, tweeted the novel was "being marketed eerily similarly to my book, and has made many of my readers ask,‘ why does this sound familiar?’" Ortiz, who admitted she had not read the novel, claimed Russell had also contacted her to say she had read Excavation.

Fourth Estate, which pre-empted the book for six figures, has stood by the book and dismissed claims that the two titles are similar. It said: "We are very proud to publish Kate Elizabeth Russell’s nuanced and powerful novel My Dark Vanessa. Kate has been working on the book for nearly 20 years and any allegation that it’s not her original work is false."

In a statement on her website, Russell said she had been working on the book for nearly 20 years and had now been forced to disclose it was inspired by her own teenage experiences.

She wrote: "I have previously discussed the relationships I’ve had with older men and how those relationships informed the writing of My Dark Vanessa. But I do not believe that we should compel victims to share the details of their personal trauma with the public. The decision whether or not to come forward should always be a personal choice. I have been afraid that opening up further about my past would invite inquiry that could be retraumatising, and my publisher tried to protect my boundaries by including a reminder to readers that the novel is fiction. 

"Sexual abuse is a complicated subject that has a history of being silenced, misunderstood, a­­­nd oversimplified. I believe novels can help create space for readers to unpack and talk about sensitive or difficult topics. 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."

In an essay on her claims, Ortiz said her memoir had been rejected by around 20 publishers before ending up with a small press, drawing similarities with the recent row over American Dirt in the way authors of colour, or from marginalised backgrounds, are treated.