I recently read Eleanor Catton’s Booker Prize winning novel, The Luminaries, and decided it was my favourite novel of 2013. It was so good, in fact, that I decided I needed to read Catton’s first novel, The Rehearsal. I learned in doing a Wikipedia search on Catton that she wrote The Rehearsal as her master’s thesis at the age of 23 and that it had won a slew of awards. However, I did not hold out any expectations that I would like it anywhere near as much as The Luminaries. As it turns out, it was good that I did not have high hopes. This novel screams of over-achievement (in short, like a master’s thesis). I still have no clue what this book was about. Somehow I managed to finish it, mostly because I was expecting to be struck with a bolt of clarity – an ‘ah-ha moment’ – somewhere before the final pages. This did not occur. The novel is split into two alternating narratives: one from the point of view of a drama student at a theatre school; the other about a saxophone teacher and one of her students, whose sister had an affair with her high school music teacher. During the first couple chapters I was convinced that the saxophone teacher story was actually a play; a play which was being performed by the students at the theatre school. About a third of the way in I began to doubt this conclusion and by the halfway point I was convinced I was wrong. And then by the latst quarter of the book I began to doubt again. In the chapters about the saxophone teacher (whose name we never learn), Catton makes references to lighting and the particular way that a character is holding an object or standing, consistent with the over-dramatization of the theatre. And then there’s the ridiculous dialogue. The fifteen-year-old students talk in long-winded phrases, loaded with metaphor and descriptions that no teenager would ever use. Clearly Catton is trying to make some sort of point, but my dim-witted, new mother brain never figured out what it was. I suppose I could do a google search and find some kind of analysis of the novel to help me out. Maybe one day I’ll get around to that.
By no means do I regret reading The Rehearsal. Aside from the sometimes frustrating moments of internal debate over whether the saxophone teacher story was a play or not, it was a mostly enjoyable read. I’d recommend it to those readers who have a more analytical mind and like to spend time thinking about deeper meanings, or allegory, or metaphor, or (insert literary device here). For those of you who like a more straight-forward, simple story, I’d avoid!