Dr. Edith Vane and the Hares of Crawley Hall / Suzette Mayr
Toronto: Coach House Books, c2017.
This is a wild and wacky read, very very Suzette Mayr. It expands on the themes of women's lives, sexuality, and identity which permeate her novels.
It's also very much about the dysfunction in a very strange academic setting.
Dr. Edith Vane is a professor at Crawley Hall, a crumbling arts building alongside the new and fancy buildings put up for the business school right next door. This building has strange hallways, doors, and sub-basements that Edith eventually comes across, expressing her annoyance that not only is their building full of asbestos, crumbling ceiling tiles, and maggots, there are apparently also supernatural shenanigans going on. She takes this quite matter-of-factly as just another annoyance.
The book chronicles her increasing concerns about her performance review under the new Dean who is very, very focused on highly public and visible achievement. Edith has persevered for a decade and has finally had her book on African-Canadian pioneer housewife memoirist Beulah Crump-Withers published, but now that's not even good enough, as it's only being published by the University of Okotoks Press, not a prestigious British press.
She also has to contend with a cast of odd colleagues, who seem to keep dropping like flies, and with the reappearance of her nemesis, her old thesis advisor Lesley Hughes who loves to take credit for everyone else's work. Really, Mayr has thrown every dysfunction into this story!
Oh, and have I mentioned the strange and ominous lurkings of the many unafraid hares in the grounds and indeed inside the actual building of Crawley Hall?
The weirdness is entertaining and hallucinatory. What is actually happening? Can Edith's perceptions be trusted? It's a dark and downward spiralling story, but it is still an immensely satisfying and entertaining reading experience. The only lightness comes in Edith's new relationship with barista Bev, a happy occasion for her, but even that falls apart eventually.
Poor Edith. She has it hard, and just wants a decent office, no evil department head, and a new blouse that doesn't have a pattern that shifts and grows right off her sleeves. Plus no awful students, and time to focus on her true interest, Beulah Crump-Withers.
You've got to read this to get the full experience though. When Mayr mentions the term "hare-brained", she really means it.
This is funny, dark, truly strange, and yet so recognizable in many ways. I really enjoyed it.