The Rehearsal by Eleanor Catton

The RehearsalI thought I would try Eleanor Catton’s first novel ‘The Rehearsal’ before tackling her Man Booker Prize-winning epic ‘The Luminaries’ at a later date.  Although difficult to summarise the plot as such, ‘The Rehearsal’ is essentially about the aftermath of an affair between a music teacher and one of his seventeen year old students, Victoria.  The story behind the scandal is later turned into a play by a local drama school known as the Institute and one of its stars, Stanley, has unknowingly become involved with Victoria’s younger sister, Isolde.

‘The Rehearsal’ is a quirky and original debut novel which shows a lot of promise but is perhaps not for everyone.  It is very experimental in style and it isn’t immediately obvious that there are two intertwined stories set at different times which eventually merge together.  For me, the complicated structure and chronology of ‘The Rehearsal’ ultimately became quite disorientating as the lines are quite blurred between the events that actually happen and the drama students’ interpretations of them. The writing is both self-assured and yet also quite self-conscious at times which simultaneously reflects both Catton’s talent for writing prose and her age at the time (she was just twenty-two years old when she wrote ‘The Rehearsal’).

Personally, I found it difficult to look past the structural issues I had with the novel and consequently, ‘The Rehearsal’ ended up being the sort of book I appreciated more than I actually enjoyed.  Although undoubtedly very cleverly written with some smart character observations and interesting dialogue, I don’t think this is a book I would return to in a hurry.  On the other hand, as I got my copy of ‘The Rehearsal’ signed by Catton a few months ago, I will be holding on to it.  Maybe I will revisit it one day in the distant future just to see if I can make a bit more sense of it…

Overall, ‘The Rehearsal’ wasn’t really for me but my mixed feelings about it haven’t put me off trying Catton’s second book ‘The Luminaries’ which is a historical novel set during the Gold Rush in New Zealand during the 1860s and is therefore likely to be very different at least in terms of genre and setting.  Although ‘The Luminaries’ is also meant to be structurally ambitious, I have higher hopes that Catton manages to pull this off more successfully in her second novel, especially given the more positive reception it received even prior to winning last year’s Man Booker Prize.


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16 responses to “The Rehearsal by Eleanor Catton

  1. The Luminaries is a great read ……..although it is a little hampered by it’s structure………best when you just abandon yourself to the story.


  2. You do a nice job reviewing a book that wasn’t your favorite by pointing out the positives. I think this is the best kind of review.


  3. Absolutely agree with your review – pretty much my experience too; but I abandoned the book about half way through. As for The Luminaries : right now, I’m off massive tomes – too long, so doubt I’ll read this one.


  4. I have this to read so it will be interesting to see if I feel the same way as it can be quite difficult to divorce admiration about a book from enjoyment. Great review 🙂


  5. I have wondered what The Rehearsal would be like, it sounds interesting, though I note your reservations.


  6. Sound interesting. I’ve been wanting to read the Luminaries while simultaneously being daunted by its apparent length and complexity, but I was excited to hear about a gentler introduction to the author. But if this one isn’t that great, maybe it’s best to charge head first into the masterwork after all – what do you think?


    • The two books are so different that it is hard to compare. As ‘The Rehearsal’ is far shorter, I can see why people might want to try it first but I wouldn’t say it’s essential. That said, I have yet to read ‘The Luminaries’ so maybe it is best if I comment on this issue once I have read both!


  7. I was thinking I might try this before The Luminaries (despite the fact that so many trusted reading friends have said that I should start The Luminaries as soon as possible). I’ve just finished The Goldfinch and two other 600 page books – I need some 300 page fluff before I get stuck into anything major!


  8. Happy reading and I look forward to hearing about the experience.


  9. I was wondering if I should start with this book first before The Luminaries. Based on your review, I think I will still give it a go. The Luminaries seems like a book I should focus and give my full attention to so even I’ve had it for months in my shelf, I’m still waiting for the perfect time to read it. You’ve reviewed this book well!


  10. I loved The Rehearsal. I found the story to be gripping (and yes, a little confusing) and the structure to be challenging. I didn’t like The Luminaries so much. I wasn’t as interested in the story and the structure was still really challenging by also about 4x as long. Catton is clearly a brilliant writer, but for a mere mortal like me I found The Luminaries to be too long, and too complex. I can’t wait to see what you think.


  11. I rather liked The Rehearsal, but I agree that she sometimes wavers between being self-assured in her unique style and then too consciously aware of her artistic choices. I enjoyed the characters and the language, but could never lose myself in the story 100%. The structure was just so deliberately dramatic everything felt like a performance. Which, I guess, could have been the goal. I thought the book worked, though, especially since she was writing about teenagers and dramatic secrets and theatre: all very convoluted topics even in the most straightforward stories.


  12. I read The Luminaries first and really loved it. It has a complex and interesting structure that the reader only begins to grasp as the pages turn. And did the pages turn! Then I found The Rehearsal and could exactly see how one sort of book led on to another, structure again important, but all together rather confusing. But I highly recommend the big one: don’t leavenit too long or it will be a film before you have read the book.


  13. hilarycustancegreen

    A helpful jumping off point for a reader looking at The Luminaries and wondering when I am going to have the energy to dive in. It sounds to me as though The Rehearsal might be better tackled second read and as a way of understanding the writer’s development.


  14. I struggled with The Rehearsal too. It took me some time to realise it was a story of a play about a story, despite the obvious clue in the title. Two time-lines and a third background time-line – all very confusing. I thought the writing was brilliant and there were some nice observations about the effects of a scandal. But the voices of the characters sounded artificial and there was a sameness to many of them (but then, they were supposed to be actors in a play, I suppose). All in all, too clever for me.


  15. Pingback: The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton | A Little Blog of Books and Other Stuff

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