Title: The Rehearsal
Author: Eleanor Catton
Publication Year: 2010
Source: ARC from LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers program
(FYI: This book is released today in Canada, but apparently doesn’t come out in the US until May 17th.)
This book, Catton’s first novel, is supposed to be about the aftermath of a high-school sex scandal at Abbey Grange, an all-girls school. Victoria and her music teacher are found out to be having an affair; Mr. Saladin loses his job, and Victoria becomes the centre of all the town’s gossip, particularly among the teenaged girls, who are upset that they didn’t know what was happening. Victoria’s younger sister Isolde is one of the people we hear the most from during the novel, as she interacts with her (out-of-school, female) saxophone teacher, and then later, with another student, Julia. There is also a secondary plot in The Rehearsal, centering around the nearby Drama Institute, where the first year students, including a boy named Stanley, end up deciding to create their end-of-year production around the scandal that rocked nearby Abbey Grange. The Rehearsal is plugged as being an exposition of the invisible and changing boundaries between private and public life as the reader watches the two intersect and navigate around each other.
In actuality, though, I found The Rehearsal to be downright boring and pretentious. The chapters are divided up into small sections that are labelled by either a month or a day of the week, but there is usually no real reason to have to do this, since everything goes forward in chronological order. Some of the characters, such as the out-of-school saxophone teacher, are never named; she is simply “the saxophone teacher”, over and over and over again, for seemingly no good reason. The rest of the plot is messy and seemingly slapped together as well – the decision of the local drama school to use the scandal for their play, billed as an important part of the novel in its summary, actually doesn’t happen until less than 100 pages are left in the book. Nothing really fits together, and when it does, it seems contrived.
The dialogue has the same problem. It seems as though Catton is trying with all her might to make The Rehearsal into a great artistic literary piece of work, but in the end, it just backfires because it makes the novel overly lengthy and hard to stay interested in. Here is an example of one of the speeches that one of the high school girls, Julia, makes to the saxophone teacher near the end of the novel. Bear in mind that she is about 17 or 18, and is talking about a “relationship” she has with Isolde, where the two of them hide away in a closet at school during lunch and talk in private:
We just lie there and marvel, and feel each other’s skin, and inside I feel years and years older than I actually am – not like I’m weary or wise or anything, but more like what I’m feeling is so huge it connects me to something still huger, something infinite, some massive arc of beautiful unknowing that is bigger than any kind of tiny trap of time, or space, that might otherwise contain me. It feels like that one moment, that one tiny shard of now, that brief and perfect moment of touching her skin and tasting her tongue and feeling so utterly captured, so caught in her, that moment is all I’m going to need to nourish me for the rest of my life.
It totally felt like a flashback to when I was in high school, watching Dawson’s Creek. Remember that show? The most original characteristic of it was that all the characters spoke like they were university graduates of philosophy, even though they were in high school. That is what The Rehearsal felt like all. the. time., like the characters were constantly speaking to each other as if they were in a philosophy class and were trying to impress their professors. I had to slog through it to finish it in time, hoping it would get better, but it never did.
On the other hand, maybe it you really like literary fiction, you might not be as bothered by The Rehearsal as I was? Anybody else read this who ended up liking it?
- 33/50 for the 50 Book Challenge