The Next Chapter

Why Mona Awad wrote a twisted take on the fairy tale with novel Bunny

The Montreal-born author speaks with Shelagh Rogers about creating a surreal and modern fairy tale set on a college campus.
Bunny is a novel by Mona Awad. (Hamish Hamilton, Brigitte Lacombe)

This interview originally aired on Oct. 5, 2019.

Mona Awad's novel Bunny is a surreal fairy tale set at an elite American university. It's about creative writing student Samantha Heather Mackey, a woman who has an otherworldly encounter with a group of tight-knit rich girls from her MFA program.

Bunny is being adapted for television by AMC. Awad's previous book, 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girlwas shortlisted for the 2016 Scotiabank Giller Prize and won the Amazon Canada First Novel Award.

Awad spoke with Shelagh Rogers about writing Bunny.

Bunnies

"There is such an overt, almost aggressive sweetness to the iconography around bunnies. The bunny always had different kinds of feelings associated with it that are in conflict. It's this sense of sweetness and the adorable — and this sense of the more sinister and the mysterious and the unexplained."

Fairy tale influences

"The book draws a lot from fairy tales. There is actually a fairy tale that features a rabbit as an animal bridegroom. It's a Beauty and the Beast-like story called The Hare's Bride. That story, even though it has a sweetness to it, has a sinister, mysterious and lonely quality to it as well.

"Alice in Wonderland was also a huge influence for this book. I loved fairy tales as a child. They were the stories that I was interested in reading again and again. They cast such a spell. I didn't quite understand fairy tales on a logical plane, but I understood emotionally what was going on in the story. 

There is such an overt, almost aggressive sweetness to the iconography around bunnies.- Mona Awad

"I studied them more deeply in graduate school. This was before I did an MFA at Brown. I did an MA in English literature at the University of Edinburgh, where I studied the role of fear in the fairy tale. That was a huge influence on my wanting to write this book."

The horror element

"Samantha is not a unreliable narrator. The outsiderness she experiences being in this world — that sense of pain, embarrassment and not fitting in — is colouring the way she sees the Bunnies, the campus and her professors. This feeling is generating a lot of the horror.

"Part of the reason why I pushed myself into the terrain of horror — there is a bit of violence in the book —  is because it's present in fairy tales. As wondrous as they are, and as much as they are stories that explore wish fulfilment and your wildest dreams coming true, they also explore encountering your worst fear, your absolute nightmare. And they explore it in a very visceral way."

High school confidential

"There was an intentional infantilization that I was interested in exploring with Bunny. It was amazing to me — as I was going into graduate school and moving through academics — how even though we're all adults, there's still something fundamentally 'high school-ish' about the academic atmosphere. It's so insular. If you go to a program that's funded, your essential needs are taken care of. 

There was an intentional infantilization that I was interested in exploring with Bunny.- Mona Awad

"You can leave the world behind when you're in the bubble of this community. In that community, there are cliques and there are people who don't fit in as easily. There are disparities in class and social status. There is a high school quality to this world that I wanted to draw out."

Mona Awad's comments have been edited for length and clarity.

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