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