After reading The Luminaries there was no way I wasn’t going to go back and read Eleanor Catton’s first novel. Book covers are often filled with blurbs (some more than others) and there is often a lot of hyperbole flying around. However after reading this book there are no exaggerations with the blurbs on the front and back of The Rehearsal.
For a debut this book is just astonishing. This is a book that challenges you as a reader and Catton has taken a number of risks. Risks I think many accomplished authors would be hesitant to take. And risks that pay off in spades.
Central to the novel is a sex scandal at a high school between a male music teacher and a female student. But it is the way Catton tells this story which will truly amaze you. The story is not told in a linear fashion. Catton jumps around a number of different perspectives as well as different points in time. While this can be confusing and requires a bit more concentration it has a profound effect on the story. Like any scandal, especially one in a school, the story is spread my many different people, in many different ways and the truth of what really happened gets blurred, discarded and picked up by others. Catton demonstrates this by exploring the story in the way she does.
The two main perspectives of the book alternate between girls’ lessons with a saxophone teacher and a first year student at a local drama college. The student characters of the novel are all in a state of rehearsal. Recital rehearsal, drama rehearsal, life rehearsal. But Catton shows a number of other rehearsals that continue to go one. The other clever device she uses is never to name the adults of the novel. The teacher involved in the sex scandal is named but the other teachers are always referred to by their teaching subjects never by name. This contributes to the sense of rehearsal, the roles of teachers are interchangeable, a part to be played.
Eleanor Catton is a writer like no other. She has the courage and skill to not only challenge you as a reader but also intrigue you and compel you to read more. Like with The Luminaries Catton doesn’t give you all the answers at the end of the book. It is up to you to digest what you have read, absorb it and make up your own mind which only some of the great books and authors ever pull off. And Eleanor Catton must surely be counted as a great writer even though her career is only really beginning.