I 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.