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The Rehearsal

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Review-A-Day

"When I was looking for plane reading over the last month, The Rehearsal, a debut novel by New Zealander Eleanor Catton, caught my eye. (Well, actually, what caught my eye were the extremely flattering blurbs on the back by Joshua Ferris and Kate Atkinson, two authors I love, and the fact that it's published by Reagan Arthur Books, an imprint I trust.) This is not, in any way, the best book for typical plane reading. It's a hyper-intelligent, occasionally mindbending, Russian doll of a novel — plots nest within plays within fantasies within philosophy. But The Rehearsal is also page-turning enough that I couldn't put it down, through thunderstorms, turbulence, and one plane actually diverting to another airport." Jill Owens, Powells.com (read the entire Powells.com review)

Synopses & Reviews

Publisher Comments:

All the world’s a stage — and nowhere more than at an all-girls high school, particularly one where a scandal has just erupted. When news spreads of a high school teacher’s relationship with his underage student, participants and observers alike soon take part in an elaborate show of concern and dismay. But beneath the surface of the teenage girls’ display, there simmers a new awareness of their own power. They obsessively examine the details of the affair with the curiosity, jealousy and approbation native to any adolescent girl, under the watchful eye of their stern and enigmatic saxophone teacher, whose focus may not be as strictly on their upcoming recital as she implies.

Shortlisted for The Guardian First Book Award, The Rehearsal is an exhilarating, darkly funny, provocative novel about the complications of human desire, a tender portrait of teenage yearning and adult regret. It marks the arrival of a boldly inventive new voice in contemporary fiction.

Review:

"'Theater,' says one of the characters in Catton's shrewd if turgid debut, 'is a concentrate of life as normal.' This idea must be embraced in order to enjoy a novel in which the characters speak and act as if on stage. The girls at the Abbey Grange school are shocked by an affair between a teacher and a student, but Catton aptly observes that they are mostly disappointed by being only peripherally involved in such delicious drama. The girls confide in their saxophone teacher, a puppet-mistress straight out of Notes on a Scandal, who becomes intent on orchestrating a relationship between two of the girls when not delivering monologues on teaching and the psychology of teenage girls. A subplot follows bland first-year drama student Stanley and his increasing involvement with a group of Abbey Grange students focused on staging a play that will also provide a convenient narrative collision point. The novel's real subject is the performance of human life, and in this respect, Catton's choice of adolescent girls and drama students is apt, though the cast is limiting and their revelations repetitive. It's a good piece of writing, but not an especially enjoyable novel." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)

Review:

“Astonishing...smart, playful, and self-possessed, it has the glitter and mystery of the true literary original." The Guardian

Review:

"This is a mesmerizing, labyrinthine, intricately patterned and astonishingly original novel. It's really something else entirely. I suppose if you need a point of reference, you might say it's as if Miss Jean Brodie got lost in Barth's funhouse. But really it has no comparison. With The Rehearsal you get the style, the sophistication, the boundless possibility and the narrative pleasures that make up any good novel, but you get a bonus, too: a glimpse into the future of the novel itself." Joshua Ferris

Review:

"A wonderful debut by a truly exciting new writer — The Rehearsal is compulsively good and while at the same time being immensely readable it also continually calls into question the relationship between so-called 'reality' and fiction, and the very nature of truth itself." Kate Atkinson

Review:

"Uncommonly witty and bold....[The Rehearsal has] a real knack for narrative and a cast of painfully familiar teenage characters who are all desperate to be as confident, cool, charismatic and funny as possible. These are qualities that the extraordinary Eleanor Catton has in spades." The Times of London

Synopsis:

A teacher's affair with his underage student jolts a group of teenage girls into a new awareness of their own power. Their nascent desires surprise even themselves as they find the practice room where they rehearse with their saxophone teacher is the safe place where they can test out their abilities to attract and manipulate. It seems their every act is a performance, every platform a stage.

But when the local drama school turns the story into their year-end show, the real world and the world of the theater are forced to meet. With the dates of the performances — the musicians' and the acting students' — approaching, the dramas, real and staged, begin to resemble each other, until they merge in a climax worthy of both life and art.

Synopsis:

All the world's a stage--and nowhere is that more true than at an all-girls high school, particularly one where a scandal has just erupted. A teacher has had an affair with his underage student, and though her friends pretend to be dismayed, they are secretly curious and jealous. They obsessively examine the details of the affair under the watchful eye of their stern and enigmatic saxophone teacher, whose focus may not be as strictly on their upcoming recital as she implies.

When the local drama school turns the story of the scandal into their year-end show, the real world and the world of the theater are forced to meet. With both performances--the musicians' and the acting students'--approaching, the boundaries between dramas real and staged, private and public, begin to dissolve. THE REHEARSAL is a tender portrait of teenage yearning and adult regret, an exhilarating, darkly funny, provocative novel about the complications of human desire.

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About the Author

Eleanor Catton was born in 1985 in Canada, grew up in New Zealand, and is currently attending the Iowa Writers Workshop. Her highly acclaimed first novel, The Rehearsal, has been sold in 10 countries and will appear in the summer of 2010.

What Our Readers Are Saying

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OneMansView, December 14, 2010 (view all comments by OneMansView)
Is life a rehearsal? (4.5*s)

Though this first novel is structurally challenging, the author keeps the tension high in her juxtapositioning of scenes that do not permit the reader to ascertain whether they are witnessing reality or performances – replicas. Ostensibly, the primary concern is to resolve the alleged seduction of a senior student at an all-girls school, Abbey Grange, by a band teacher; but then there is the possibility that the teen-ager has precipitated the situation through purposeful usage of her nubile charms. Eschewing the conventional path of detailing a police investigation, the author dramatizes the event through the vehicle of a play produced by college-aged students at an adjacent drama institute. The subjectivity and arbitrariness of artistic interpretation and persuasiveness are now injected into the entire scenario in addition to the near impossibility of gauging whether scenes and dialog stand outside the play or are a part of it. Given its innovative approach, this novel does require sharp attention.

At the drama school, the students are literally forced to “peel” away social veneers and defenses and to embrace authenticity, including a willingness to reveal one’s most intimate moments. The school has departments of Acting, Improvisation, Movement, Voice, etc. The instructors are almost harsh in their demands, looking for ways to humiliate. Yet exercises in role playing underscore that actors play parts, which are seldom coincident with searches for truth. One student realizes that “Theater isn’t real life, and it isn’t a perfect copy of real life. It’s just a point of access.” This is the sort of training and mindset that are the basis of the drama students’ construction of a play to elucidate what happened at the girls’ school.

On the other hand, the teen-age girls at the school seek to become worldly, game playing and posturing being part of the process. They may have budding sexual prowess, but are apprehensive of how to advance to womanhood, which explains their cliquishness and conformity and their ready cruelty in labeling those a bit different as sexually deficient or deviant. Victoria, the girl who took up with Mr. Saladin, is both condemned for going outside the group and feared because she has gained knowledge and experience that they all desire. Even her younger sister Isolde wonders “How did you know that he would receive you, gather you up and press hard against you and even give out a little strangled moan like a cry, like a cry in the back of his throat?”.

A very interesting character/actor is an independent teacher who rents space and gives saxophone lessons to some of the girls. Her attitude towards parents and the girls is seen in her caustic comment to a mother:

“If I am to teach your daughter, you darling hopeless and inadequate mother, she must be moody and bewildered and awkward and dissatisfied and wrong. When she realizes her body is a secret, a dark and yawning secret of which she becomes more and more ashamed, come back to me. … I cannot teach children.”

And the snare drum in the theater goes “kiss-kiss-kiss.” She acts as more of a therapist and instigator than teacher, as she practically intimidates the girls into revealing their thoughts and actions and suggests actions to take. Most of these interactions seem to be a part of the play as various moods are created through the use of lighting, music, etc. The explanations presented by the various girls change from scene to scene. For example, has Isolde been sexually awakened by the mature Julia, a senior student, or were her first experiences with Stanley, a hesitant, stumbling student from the institute?

The author definitely suggests that the complexity and sophistication of the female personality surpasses that of men; there is a mysteriousness that is reinforced by the uncertainties of this novel. Stanley at one point concludes that girls have a “witchy capacity.” They “constantly and consciously [distinguish] between themselves and the performance of themselves.” This strangeness, according to one of the instructors, causes “many of us [men] to fear women.” But the author is perhaps most interested in the emotions and intensity of young girls attracted to each other. Men are largely secondary in this story: there, but not crucial.

More broadly, the point is well made that life in many ways is a play, or more pointedly an ongoing rehearsal; we all play roles, though not necessarily happily. In other words, reality is the sum of performances. Is there room for truth in such a world? If so, it lies largely undiscovered in this novel.

One verity is that this novel is a remarkable effort from a young author. It is no small feat to weave a story of this complexity and perceptiveness, although the disjointedness is a bit of a distraction. It is a highly provocative, sensuous, and insightful coming-of-age book. There really is no plot to speak of. It is difficult to speak of characters when they are characterizations of actors. However, the enigmatic sax teacher is central to the book and Julia is a commanding and smart, cynical presence. Of course, props are important in a theater. In the author’s eyes a saxophone can become “more alive than you are.”; they can be caressed or positioned as an object or weapon.
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Product Details

ISBN:
9780316074339
Subtitle:
A Novel
Publisher:
Reagan Arthur / Back Bay Books
Author:
Catton, Eleanor
Subject:
Teenage girls
Subject:
Bildungsromans
Subject:
Urban Life
Subject:
Coming of age
Subject:
General
Subject:
Literature-Urban Life
Subject:
General Fiction
Publication Date:
20110824
Binding:
Hardcover
Language:
English
Pages:
336
Dimensions:
8.25 x 5.5 x 1 in 0.66 lb

Related Subjects

Fiction and Poetry » Literature » A to Z
Fiction and Poetry » Literature » Coming of Age
Fiction and Poetry » Literature » Urban Life

The Rehearsal
0 stars - 0 reviews
$ In Stock
Product details 336 pages Reagan Arthur Books - English 9780316074339 Reviews:
"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "'Theater,' says one of the characters in Catton's shrewd if turgid debut, 'is a concentrate of life as normal.' This idea must be embraced in order to enjoy a novel in which the characters speak and act as if on stage. The girls at the Abbey Grange school are shocked by an affair between a teacher and a student, but Catton aptly observes that they are mostly disappointed by being only peripherally involved in such delicious drama. The girls confide in their saxophone teacher, a puppet-mistress straight out of Notes on a Scandal, who becomes intent on orchestrating a relationship between two of the girls when not delivering monologues on teaching and the psychology of teenage girls. A subplot follows bland first-year drama student Stanley and his increasing involvement with a group of Abbey Grange students focused on staging a play that will also provide a convenient narrative collision point. The novel's real subject is the performance of human life, and in this respect, Catton's choice of adolescent girls and drama students is apt, though the cast is limiting and their revelations repetitive. It's a good piece of writing, but not an especially enjoyable novel." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Review A Day" by , "When I was looking for plane reading over the last month, The Rehearsal, a debut novel by New Zealander Eleanor Catton, caught my eye. (Well, actually, what caught my eye were the extremely flattering blurbs on the back by Joshua Ferris and Kate Atkinson, two authors I love, and the fact that it's published by Reagan Arthur Books, an imprint I trust.) This is not, in any way, the best book for typical plane reading. It's a hyper-intelligent, occasionally mindbending, Russian doll of a novel — plots nest within plays within fantasies within philosophy. But The Rehearsal is also page-turning enough that I couldn't put it down, through thunderstorms, turbulence, and one plane actually diverting to another airport." Jill Owens, Powells.com (read the entire Powells.com review)
"Review" by , “Astonishing...smart, playful, and self-possessed, it has the glitter and mystery of the true literary original."
"Review" by , "This is a mesmerizing, labyrinthine, intricately patterned and astonishingly original novel. It's really something else entirely. I suppose if you need a point of reference, you might say it's as if Miss Jean Brodie got lost in Barth's funhouse. But really it has no comparison. With The Rehearsal you get the style, the sophistication, the boundless possibility and the narrative pleasures that make up any good novel, but you get a bonus, too: a glimpse into the future of the novel itself."
"Review" by , "A wonderful debut by a truly exciting new writer — The Rehearsal is compulsively good and while at the same time being immensely readable it also continually calls into question the relationship between so-called 'reality' and fiction, and the very nature of truth itself."
"Review" by , "Uncommonly witty and bold....[The Rehearsal has] a real knack for narrative and a cast of painfully familiar teenage characters who are all desperate to be as confident, cool, charismatic and funny as possible. These are qualities that the extraordinary Eleanor Catton has in spades."
"Synopsis" by , A teacher's affair with his underage student jolts a group of teenage girls into a new awareness of their own power. Their nascent desires surprise even themselves as they find the practice room where they rehearse with their saxophone teacher is the safe place where they can test out their abilities to attract and manipulate. It seems their every act is a performance, every platform a stage.

But when the local drama school turns the story into their year-end show, the real world and the world of the theater are forced to meet. With the dates of the performances — the musicians' and the acting students' — approaching, the dramas, real and staged, begin to resemble each other, until they merge in a climax worthy of both life and art.

"Synopsis" by , All the world's a stage--and nowhere is that more true than at an all-girls high school, particularly one where a scandal has just erupted. A teacher has had an affair with his underage student, and though her friends pretend to be dismayed, they are secretly curious and jealous. They obsessively examine the details of the affair under the watchful eye of their stern and enigmatic saxophone teacher, whose focus may not be as strictly on their upcoming recital as she implies.

When the local drama school turns the story of the scandal into their year-end show, the real world and the world of the theater are forced to meet. With both performances--the musicians' and the acting students'--approaching, the boundaries between dramas real and staged, private and public, begin to dissolve. THE REHEARSAL is a tender portrait of teenage yearning and adult regret, an exhilarating, darkly funny, provocative novel about the complications of human desire.

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