Monday October 16, 2017

Why Suzette Mayr set out to write a horror novel

Dr. Edith Vane and the Hares of Crawley Hall is Suzette Mayr's fifth novel.

Dr. Edith Vane and the Hares of Crawley Hall is Suzette Mayr's fifth novel. (Coach House Books)

Listen 13:15

Suzette Mayr is a university professor and author. Her 2011 novel, Monoceros, earned multiple nominations, including a spot on the Scotiabank Giller Prize longlist. Her latest novel, Dr. Edith Vane and the Hares of Crawley Hall, tells the story of an English professor dealing with the publication of her dissertation, backstabbing colleagues and a haunted office building to boot.  

Channeling Shirley Jackson and Stephen King

"This book actually started out as a horror novel. I wanted to write a haunted house novel in the vein of Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House and Stephen King's The Shining with the Overlook Hotel. I wanted to write about an animate house — a house that was a living organism. I kept trying to write this book, but I kept failing. In the meantime, I was teaching and I was noticing there were colleagues of mine who weren't coping very well. There seemed to be a rash of people going on sick leave and stress leave. There are always emails about asbestos abatements and how the elevators don't work, so you get stuck in an elevator. It just clicked — maybe my haunted house is actually a haunted university building."

Finding inspiration in an abandoned building

"I wrote a lot of this book in Australia. When I was there, I read about a sick building in a newspaper. It was a building that belonged to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. They had a building in a suburb of Brisbane and I think, over 10 or 12 years, 16 women who worked in that building got breast cancer. When the 17th woman got breast cancer, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation outright evacuated the building and it became a ghost building. When I found out about that building, it set my novel off in all kinds of directions."

The parallels between horror and satire

"They're about exaggeration. Satire is just an amping up of things. I read a lot of books about the uncanny. Scariness does not come from a big monster that lumbers into the room and kills you. Scariness comes from something which is slightly off. I think that's what horror is all about — taking the normal and cranking it a bit to the left. I think satire is sort of the same thing."

Suzette Mayr's comments have been edited and condensed.