The Rehearsal, by Eleanor Catton

rehearsalI 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!

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