Victoria Sees It
- McClelland & Stewart
- Initial publish date
- Apr 2021
- Psychological, Friendship, Literary
Paperback / softback
- Publish Date
- Apr 2021
- List Price
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Where to buy it
Finalist for the 2022 BC and Yukon Book Prizes
A queer psychological thriller from a beguiling, fresh new voice.
Victoria is unraveling. Her best friend is missing, and she's the only one who seems to care: there are clues all over Cambridge, but Deb is nowhere to be found--and the harder Victoria looks, the less she sees.
Victoria is raised in a crumbling house in England by her working-class aunt and uncle, until her academic brilliance gains her entrance to Cambridge. There, she meets her first true friend, Deb, a spacey aristocrat, and the girls create their own tiny bubble within Cambridge's strict class system. Until Deb disappears.
In her search for her friend, Victoria finds an unlikely ally--a police officer named Julie. They travel the countryside, visiting sites of suicides, murders, and accidents. But eventually, Julie's emotional demands overwhelm Victoria, and she retreats into a lonely life of academia, always teetering on the edge of emotional collapse.
Wandering through a miasma of sexism, isolation, physical and mental health issues, Victoria's story is haunted by the spectre of her mother, whose own assault and subsequent pregnancy represent a break in her contract with the world.
About the author
Carrie Jenkins is a professor of philosophy at the University of British Columbia and the author of What Love Is (and What it Could Be) and Sad Love: Romance and the Search for Meaning. She holds a PhD in philosophy from Trinity College, Cambridge, and an MFA in creative writing from UBC. She has been featured in The Atlantic, the New York Times, the Globe and Mail and the Telegraph, among others.
Excerpt: Victoria Sees It (by (author) Carrie Jenkins)
I can never go back to Cambridge. I don’t mean like how Mrs. de Winter can never go back to Manderley. Cambridge has not literally burned to the ground. Not all of it anyway. It’s still there. Still calling. What makes the place so magnetic? The magic of history? That’s nothing magical, just a kind of mass hysteria. A folie à plusieurs.
But I suppose such things are necessary. Seeing the world as it really is makes you crazy. Accuracy is comorbid with depression, you know—major accuracy with major depression. We stay alive by means of the precise deployment of attention. Look at these seamless green banks, these ancient stone bridges arcing like half-moons, reflected to full circles in the flat jade water. These cloistered courtyards and these postcard-perfect weeping willows. Ophelia-esque, reaching down to greet the gorgeous swirling limbs of their watery counterparts. Punt on by.
Yet we must stick our poles into the mud at the bottom of it all. The present builds inexorably over the empty fields of the past. That’s Dorothy L. Sayers. I suppose the way that I can never go back to Cambridge is the same way that her Harriet Vane could never go back to Oxford, until she could, and did, and look what happened to her. Women must be put in their place, and their place is not a university. Sayers gets that. So she sends poor Harriet—who, let’s be honest, is herself in a wig and dark glasses—into a thinly fictionalized 1935 Oxford that cannot deal.
Ah, but 1935 was such a long time ago! Water under the bridge, right? The problem is, it turns out you can step twice in the same Isis, the same Cam. Honestly, you can throw yourself in a thousand times over and nobody is going to stop you. Stagnant. Sayers writes us a river full of garbage and the bodies of suicidal girls and all we want to do is go there for a holiday. That’s the magic.
As for me, however far away I get I can’t seem to stop sticking my pole into the mud. The other week I agreed to a public online “chat” about my work. It was against my better judgment, but I am constantly being told we need role models for women in academia. It makes me feel guilty. Of course, as soon as the admins took a few minutes’ unannounced break, the trolls swarmed. First the surface scum, the clinging weeds. I should make them a sandwich, I should be gangraped, if a tree falls in a forest can they see a picture of my tits, why don’t I kill myself. Then the deep undertow, the ones who might be typing from down the hallway and use good grammar. Women get all the breaks in academia, work like mine proves we are naturally inferior thinkers, positive discrimination is the only reason I got this job which I cannot do and don’t deserve, why don’t I give up.
Well, why don’t I? I want out, but inertia is a killer. At least I got out of Cambridge. I don’t quite know why I had to get so far. I suppose I thought it would help, to put some ground between us, and then I upgraded from ground to an ocean. Right now, I’m lying flat out on a hotel bed in Toronto. Did you know that acid indigestion can feel exactly like a heart attack? People die because they blame their starchy dinners. And yes, one way of looking at that is to say how awful it is that those people die. But the real, grinding tragedy here is that all the rest of us are in that much pain every day and nobody gives a toss because we aren’t dying.
This would be a shitty insipid hotel room, beige and pointless, but for its one concession to non-generic decor, a drawing of a strange kind of dragon. Or it could be a snake. It stares right out at me, snout almost projecting from its two dimensional plane, right over the sink where you’d expect a mirror to be. I don’t miss having a mirror, the glass over the picture is good enough. When I wash my face, I can see my own two eyes reflected side by side in that snakey mug.
But this is all distraction, isn’t it? I must, for once, stop distracting myself. I must focus. I am tired. To be fair, it’s been twenty years of constant effort, pulling away in any direction, and that is exhausting. But when I let my mind snap back on its own elastic, it only ever returns me to Cambridge. Those months at the end of my first Easter term are real—they are as real now as they were then. As for everything in between then and now, that gets hazy. Hey, let me tell you a story with a weak female lead. It doesn’t have a narrative arc so much as a trough, or maybe a cliff would be more accurate.
Perhaps that’s an uninviting invitation. What do you want me to do about it? What we can’t say we can’t say, and we can’t whistle it either. That’s Frank Ramsey. Telling Wittgenstein off. So take it or leave it. The one thing I’m sure about is that first year in Cambridge. That really happened. I can’t get away from that, however far I run. Twenty years and an ocean? It’s nowhere near enough. I can never go back to Cambridge because I can never leave.
"In Victoria Sees It, Carrie Jenkins pursues the idea of women's madness: its origins, its structures, and, most radically, its insights. When I began reading this beguiling story, I was put in mind of Charlotte Brontë, as the main character is a cross between the odd and serious Jane Eyre and the raving, attic-bound Mrs. Rochester. Jenkins's voice manages the rare feat of being remarkably intelligent and complex, while being fast paced and engaging. A brilliant thriller about the infinite corridors and wondrous nooks and crannies of women's minds." —Heather O'Neill