I remember enjoying and being engaged by Monoceros, written by Suzette Mayr. Its structure and narrative elements challenged me as a reader and the subject was necessary and honest. So when I saw Mayr had a new book coming out in 2017—Dr. Edith Vane and the Hares of Crawley Hall—I wanted to read it.
Dr. Edith Vane, scholar of English literature, is contentedly ensconced at the University of Inivea. Her dissertation on African-Canadian pioneer housewife memoirist Beulah Crump-Withers is about to be published, and her job’s finally safe, if she only can fill out her AAO properly. She’s a little anxious, but a new floral blouse and her therapist’s repeated assurance that she is the architect of her own life should fix that. All should be well, really. Except for her broken washing machine, her fickle new girlfriend, her missing friend Coral, her backstabbing fellow professors, a cutthroat new dean – and the fact that the sentient and malevolent Crawley Hall has decided it wants them all out, and the hall and its hellish hares will stop at nothing to get rid of them.
Like an unholy collision of Stoner, The Haunting of Hill House, Charlie Brown, and Alice in Wonderland, this audacious new novel by the Giller Prize–longlisted Suzette Mayr is a satire that takes the hallowed halls of the campus novel in fantastical – and unsettling – directions.
—From the publisher, Coach House Books
Going in I didn’t really know what to expect. I knew it would be a bit bizarre, as that seems to be Suzette Mayr’s style, but I wasn’t entirely prepared. I kept having to put the book aside as I was getting visibly anxious for Dr. Edith Vane. Everything just kept getting worse and worse—hallucinations, academic competitiveness, cruel people, and deteriorating mental health.
Having recently finished my Masters degree, the level of anxiety and the “publish or perish” mentality in academia is recognizable. The fictional University of Inivea’s “EnhanceUs Refreshment Strategy” also made me think of all the branding tactics my alma mater uses—nothing sounds more meaningless than branding taglines like “Engage the World”. For some reason I kept thinking the book was set in Australia, but it’s actually set in Alberta, Canada (which makes sense as Mayr teaches at the University of Calgary).
Edith is full of fear and anxiety, usually not unwarranted, but some of the psychedelic elements were difficult to separate from the real. While I understand that’s kinda the point, it made for a confusing novel at times. I had trouble following the overall objective as it became clear things were probably not going to work out for Edith. I kept reading with a sort of morbid curiousity and hope that things would work out in at least a small way for her. I genuinely felt bad for her as she fantasized about asking her lover Bev (who was recently divorced and whose son was Edith’s colleague) to marry her. It was clear Bev was having a rebound fling and exploring a new sexual identity. Whereas Edith was desperate for some emotional and authentic human connection. I felt embarrassed on her behalf when she made socially awkward attempts at networking with other faculty.
As I read, I kept wondering if Edith was having a psychotic break, or if Crawley Hall really was screwing with all the staff and no one wanted to sound like “the crazy one”. Well, except Angus Fella. Dr. Edith Vane and the Hares of Crawley Hall certainly throws the trope of campus novel out the window and into the giant sinkhole.