Dr. Edith Vane and the Hares of Craw­ley Hall by Suzette Mayr

Room Magazine - - CONTENTS - Rachna Raj Kaur

Suzette Mayr’s fifth novel, Dr. Edith Vane and the Hares of Craw­ley Hall, is a painful yet ex­cep­tional read. Dr. Vane is a lit­er­a­ture pro­fes­sor at an imag­i­nary univer­sity in Al­berta. For sev­eral years she has been writ­ing a book based on her PhD, about Beu­lah Crump-Withers, a Black writer from Al­berta whose his­tory has largely been mis­un­der­stood. Dr. Vane her­self is mixed-race Black and white and feels obliged to tell this story; it is the only thing that keeps her go­ing.

Writ­ten as a com­pos­ite of in­ci­dents ex­pe­ri­enced by Mayr and her aca­demic friends, the novel starts off at the be­gin­ning of the school year with Dr. Vane seem­ingly in con­trol. On the ad­vice of her ther­a­pist she re­cites “I am the ar­chi­tect of my life” as a re­as­sur­ing mantra. She has splurged so her wardrobe is more like that of her col­leagues, and she’s got a plan to com­plete her ad­min­is­tra­tive re­spon­si­bil­i­ties ac­cord­ing to dead­line.

But very quickly she be­gins to un­ravel, and what lies un­der­neath the fa­cade is an in­se­cure, self-dep­re­cat­ing, of­ten-para­noid woman strug­gling to hold it all to­gether with­out much sup­port. As Dr. Vane spi­rals, what tran­spires is a painful down­fall.

Dr. Vane does not have what it takes to per­form her job as an aca­demic, nor does she have the con­fi­dence to fake it. She is eas­ily dis­tracted by the build­ing’s wors­en­ing con­di­tions, which im­pact the health of its in­hab­i­tants, the dy­nam­ics amongst the fac­ulty, and the pol­i­tics within the in­sti­tu­tion. Her lack of friends, joke of a re­la­tion­ship, and dis­tant par­ents col­lude to cre­ate pity for a char­ac­ter who is es­sen­tially, ac­cord­ing to Mayr her­self, a loser. As an aca­demic and as a per­son, “she will al­ways be Sisy­phus, un­til she dies of an aneurysm.”

While many have in­ter­preted this novel as funny, dark, and gothic (the aca­demic in­sti­tu­tion has bud­get con­straints and is lit­er­ally crum­bling), I couldn’t help but as­so­ciate the story with all the women I know who have been un­der­mined and taken for granted by their col­leagues and places of work. Many of the sit­u­a­tions and dy­nam­ics de­scribed are fa­mil­iar.

For this rea­son, I found ten­sion build­ing up when I should have been laugh­ing. But, for its writ­ing, I couldn’t stop. Mayr’s abil­ity to cre­ate hu­mour with cine­matic de­tail is rare, and light­ened what felt like a heavy read. Dr. Vane is fail­ing at life yet hope­ful. She earns both our pity and at­ten­tion. “Rid­ing a wave of self-con­grat­u­la­tion, she tops up the gas tank at the No­vacrest sta­tion at the east end of the mall park­ing lot, the clicks of the litre in­di­ca­tor match­ing the clicks of happy re­tailther­apy self-right­eous­ness. Her credit card bloats just a lit­tle bit.”

Dr. Edith Vane and the Hares of Craw­ley Hall is es­sen­tial read­ing for any­one in­ter­ested in the sto­ries of women in their work­places to­day.

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